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The government has argued that changes that target specific trouble areas are more appropriate than blanket closures. Premier Doug Ford has been a bit wobbly on communications this week, but he’s been clear on the unfairness of shutting down a whole sector because some elements have had problems.
Toronto Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa wants indoor dining prohibited, arguing that 44 per cent of outbreaks in Toronto are linked to bars, restaurants and entertainment venues. It sounds like a huge problem, but as Ford pointed out Monday, de Villa’s number translates into trouble at 20 businesses out of 7,600 in that sector in Toronto.
Public health experts are right when they argue that further restricting Ontario’s economy is likely to reduce infections, but it’s a one-dimensional view that neglects to balance public safety with the economic and mental health benefits of economic reopening. That’s the bigger-picture concern that is making the government reluctant to impose broader closings. Ontario has already suffered permanent economic damage from the first wave of closings, which launched the province’s greatest economic setback since the Great Depression.
Supporters of more economic restrictions sometimes suggest a tighter lockdown will save the economy in the long run, but it’s a weak argument. A second shutdown will mean more jobs and businesses that are never coming back, especially small businesses, restaurants, hotels and tourism businesses. Those sectors are already imperilled. At this point, dramatic action simply isn’t justified by current numbers of deaths or hospitalizations, both of which are dramatically lower than they were in the spring.
The Ontario government needs to balance economic activity and safety measures. That can be a tough sell when rising daily case numbers create a demand for government to do something, right now. One of the lessons we should have learned from this pandemic is to match the response to the magnitude of the problem. Despite some confusion about numbers, it’s a strategy that does add up.
Randall Denley is an Ottawa political commentator and author of the new mystery Payback, available at randalldenley.com Contact him at email@example.com