Windsor Star

Strong leadership is missing amid half-measures, flip-flopping rules

- ANNE JARVIS ajarvis@postmedia.com

So, here we are, left with a vacuum in leadership in the middle of the biggest public health crisis in a century.

The immediate, unspeakabl­e consequenc­e will be continued illness and death, heartbreak­ing because it could be prevented.

And, with the clear loss of confidence in Ontario's government, the question is, how will we find our way out of this and what will this do to our resolve?

Now we've really entered uncharted territory.

When Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table began warning, repeatedly, in February that strong public health measures are needed to control the more contagious and virulent variants of SARS-COV-2 and avoid a third wave, Premier Doug Ford did the opposite. He began opening the province.

Then, in a whirlwind, head-swivelling few weeks, we went from opening to a third lockdown, from no more stay-athome orders to another stay-athome order, from schools are open to schools are closed, from playground­s are closed to playground­s are open, from police checks to no police checks.

It was the latest, ill-considered measures Ford announced Friday that led to revolt. Factories and warehouses that make and ship non-essential goods — where hundreds of people who can't work from home and don't have sufficient, guaranteed sick pay are being infected and spreading it to their co-workers and families — can continue operating. But kids can't use the swings at the park, and police can stop you and ask you why you're out.

The revolt by doctors, police, pretty much everyone last weekend forced the government to reverse, again, announcing playground­s are open and police won't randomly check people.

If you're going to ask tired and hurting people, after a year of loss — loss of lives, jobs and human connection — to continue fighting and sacrificin­g, they need to believe in what they're doing.

They need to believe in those who are asking them to do it. They need to believe in what they're being asked to do, that it will achieve what needs to be achieved. And they need to believe that everyone is pulling together.

In Canada, we're pretty good at pulling together.

But after Friday, few people in Ontario believe any of that.

The public, many of whom are reasonably informed after a year of this, got the message all right. They got the message that government is ignoring the science, that it can't make the necessary tough decisions and that, in the absence of science, it's making this up as it goes.

Will more people start saying, why should we follow the rules? What's the point? Because we can't afford that.

In the resulting vacuum, others are left to do what the government won't.

The science table doubled down Tuesday, issuing a brief bluntly listing “What will work” and “What won't work.”

Only “truly essential” indoor workplaces should be open, it states, and essential workers should be paid to stay home when they're sick, have been exposed to the virus or need time to be vaccinated. The federal sick benefit isn't enough. It's cumbersome and doesn't pay enough.

What won't work, the science table said, is discouragi­ng outdoor activity. Being able to meet with small groups of people outside, safely, is important for maintainin­g mental and physical health.

The same day the science table issued its brief, Toronto and Peel Region announced they will close workplaces that experience five infections in two weeks.

So now, after refusing calls for paid sick leave for months, the government is reconsider­ing it.

We can't afford to continue stumbling along, announcing ineffectiv­e rules, reversing them. Proper preventive public health measures are the only thing we have until we get enough vaccine to protect everyone.

After more than a year, we have learned three cardinal rules:

First, follow the science. How does the virus spread? Who is most vulnerable? How do we protect them?

Second, stay ahead of the virus, and act decisively and quickly. Half-measures don't work, and if you're reacting, you're too late.

Finally, it's not a choice between the virus and the economy or the virus and anything else.

Everything depends on controllin­g the virus.

If Ford isn't going to do this, he needs to hand the job to someone who will.

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