Confusing and mixed messages are understandable, but not helpful
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.