Con­fus­ing and mixed mes­sages are un­der­stand­able, but not help­ful

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Opinion - KEITH LES­LIE Keith Les­lie is a vet­eran On­tario jour­nal­ist cov­er­ing politics

It’s not sur­pris­ing peo­ple are con­fused about ex­actly what to do to best pro­tect them­selves from COVID-19, given how fast ad­vice from our pub­lic health and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers change.

We’re told to ig­nore un­founded Twit­ter and Face­book ru­mours and lis­ten to the ad­vice of the ex­perts, but with so many of­fi­cials of­fer­ing so many dif­fer­ent rec­om­men­da­tions and so many ju­ris­dic­tions im­pos­ing dif­fer­ing lev­els of pre­cau­tions, it’s in­for­ma­tion over­load.

Cana­di­ans have only to look at the con­fused and de­layed re­sponse to COVID-19 in the United States to see the ben­e­fits of our ro­bust pub­lic health sys­tem, with lo­cal, pro­vin­cial and fed­eral chief med­i­cal of­fi­cers all of­fer­ing ad­vice to politi­cians at each level. The sands are shift­ing un­der their feet, so it’s no won­der the ad­vice can seem con­tra­dic­tory at times.

Pre­mier Doug Ford said Mon­day there was no ad­vice to close bars and restau­rants, but that af­ter­noon, Toronto told bars to close and restau­rants to shut din­ing rooms and op­er­ate a take­out and de­liv­ery ser­vice only. Mon­day night, the prov­ince an­nounced the same de­ci­sion, and Tues­day morn­ing, Ford de­clared a provincewi­de state of emer­gency man­dat­ing the clos­ings.

Last Thurs­day, Ford had en­cour­aged par­ents to take their kids away on March break with­out hav­ing to worry about them be­ing kept out of school when they re­turn. By that af­ter­noon, his gov­ern­ment an­nounced all pub­licly funded schools in On­tario would close for three weeks.

Former pre­mier Kath­leen Wynne gen­er­ously sug­gested Ford was just do­ing his best to calm anx­ious fam­i­lies “out of the good­ness of his heart. I could hear that in his voice.” That’s how you punt par­ti­san politics aside and show peo­ple how to unite dur­ing a cri­sis. No cheap shots.

On Fri­day, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau said Cana­di­ans re­turn­ing from abroad should self-iso­late for 14 days, but it took all week­end be­fore any­one started in­form­ing air­line pas­sen­gers.

Later Fri­day, af­ter some fam­i­lies left on March break, the gov­ern­ment ad­vised against for­eign travel and told Cana­di­ans abroad to re­turn home while com­mer­cial flights were still avail­able. By Mon­day, Trudeau es­sen­tially closed Canada’s bor­ders. These weren’t mis­takes, but evolv­ing and es­ca­lat­ing re­sponses to chang­ing cir­cum­stances and ex­pert ad­vice.

Trudeau didn’t close the bor­der to Amer­i­cans, which cer­tainly is more of a po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sion than a rec­om­men­da­tion from any pub­lic health of­fi­cial, but po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship re­quires many con­sid­er­a­tions be­fore dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions are made in a cri­sis.

Ford prom­ises work­ers won’t lose their jobs and won’t need a doc­tor’s note to stay home dur­ing the pan­demic, but those laid off will have to turn to em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance, and there’s no guarantee small busi­nesses can sur­vive lengthy shutdowns. Mort­gages and rents still need to be paid and gro­ceries pur­chased, and that’s hard to do with no money com­ing in.

On­tario should re­duce peak elec­tric­ity rates dur­ing day­time with so many fam­i­lies and work­ers stay­ing home. Ford ad­mits he’s no fan of time-of-use pric­ing, but if he doesn’t take quick ac­tion, many peo­ple will see huge in­creases in their hy­dro bills.

The big­gest shock to me was the panic buy­ing at gro­cery stores and the hoard­ing of toi­let pa­per, clearly fu­elled by what look like Soviet-era pictures of empty shelves and huge line­ups posted to some very 21st cen­tury so­cial me­dia feeds. Be­ing Cana­di­ans, our panic buy­ing was done mostly calmly, po­litely and with lots of toi­let hu­mour and zom­bie apoc­a­lypse jokes.

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