Ontario’s newest COVID restrictions serve as a stark warning

For someone who lives here, the brief freedom isn’t worth weeks of increased restrictions

On April 16, Ontario announced sweeping new COVID-19 restrictions, including increased police powers and closing playgrounds. Following fierce backlash, both were repealed the next day (Ashley Hyshka)

Earlier this year, modelling projections revealed that if Ontario reacted proactively, we could halt a third COVID wave. Instead, the measures we enacted were reactive, and the variants overwhelmed us.

The third wave is here, and we’re drowning.

Instagram is flooded with photos of Vancouverites drinking on sun-bathed patios and having beach gatherings. I look at the situation here in Ontario and ask myself: how did we get here?

On April 3, Ontario entered its third lockdown, and a stay-at-home order was imposed days later, and both were extended until May 20. We’re averaging 4,000 new cases per day, while the ICU is near their breaking point.

Current restrictions require people to stay home and only leave for “essential” reasons. Anyone who can work remotely must do so while schools have transitioned to online learning again. Restaurants can offer takeout or delivery, and essential retailers are open but at reduced capacity and can only sell essential items. Non-essential stores can offer delivery or curbside pickup. All gatherings with people outside one’s household are prohibited, and outdoor recreational amenities are closed.

What’s causing the spike?

“SARS-CoV-2 spreads when people go to work sick or after having been exposed to the virus. Workers who do this often must do so because they have no choice: they must feed their families and pay their rent,” wrote Ontario’s COVID Science Advisory Table. The variants are highly contagious, but vaccines haven’t yet made their way to essential workers, thus creating a perfect storm.

We needed leadership. We needed a plan rooted in science and compassion, not political finger-pointing. Medical experts, scientific advisors, and the public have been begging the provincial government for targeted vaccinations in hotspots and paid sick leave. But instead, we got closed playgrounds and increased police powers. Both of which were repealed days later.

After months of criticism and pleading, the government finally relented and offered to subsidize up to three days of paid sick leave, but many are worried that this is not enough.

Over the weekend, COVID claimed the life of 13-year-old Emily Victoria Viegas of Brampton. Her father is an essential warehouse worker. On Monday, Ontario’s legislature held a moment of silence for Viegas, and then minutes later, shot down Bill 247, which would have guaranteed paid sick days.

The vaccination rollout was a race against the clock to beat these variants, but every time I read Ontario’s new daily case count, I am reminded that we lost. These were preventable infections and deaths.

“I know we got it wrong and we made a mistake, and for that I’m sorry,”  Ontario Premier Doug Ford said on April 22.

Premier Ford, I don’t want to hear that you’re sorry. I want you to do your job.

You didn’t listen to the modelling projections. You didn’t shut down our international border. You didn’t close schools. You didn’t target vaccinations to essential workers. You just didn’t listen to medical experts and the people.

The only thing keeping me going is seeing the number of vaccinated individuals climb steadily every day. If that means I have to wait longer to receive my vaccine, so at-risk essential workers get theirs first, then I’ll wait. Not because it is easy, but simply because it’s the right thing to do.

Ontario has been under COVID restrictions or lockdowns for a year, but B.C. is only beginning to experience strengthened restrictions. If closing indoor dining for three weeks upsets you, I assure you it can — and if public health orders are ignored, will — get much worse.

The world is watching us. I don’t want to be in the news like this anymore.

So B.C., keep following public health guidelines and (safely) enjoy your patios and trips to the beach. I hope to join you on the other side soon.

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