Ontario Premier Doug Ford is resisting calls to prohibit indoor dining at restaurants, despite a request from Toronto’s medical officer of health and new highs for active COVID-19 cases province-wide.
Ontario saw 580 new cases on Oct. 7, surpassing the first-wave high of 640 new cases on April 24. Sixty percent of the new cases are among people under the age of 40.
Despite processing an average of 40,100 tests daily, Ontario’s 153 assessment centres were still faced with a backlog of some 68,000 tests, whittled down from a high of over 90,000 the week before.
Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s medical officer of health, said on Oct. 5 that she was “very seriously asking again that everyone rethink their Thanksgiving plans” and urged a four-week suspension of indoor service at bars and restaurants and indoor group exercise classes.
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, said the province is “asking people to avoid close contact with people outside of your household.”
Meanwhile, 20 prominent doctors wrote an open letter to Ford, published in the National Post on Sept. 30, to urge him not to return to sweeping lockdowns.
“Overdoses have risen 40 percent in some jurisdictions. Extensive morbidity has been experienced by those whose surgery has been cancelled, and the ramifications for cancer patients whose diagnostic testing was delayed has yet to be determined,” the doctors wrote.
“Lockdowns have been shown not to eliminate the virus,” they noted.
So far, Ford is keeping businesses open.
“The easy thing to do is—without seeing endless data—is just close everything down. I’m sorry, I’m not prepared to do that to people’s lives right now,” he said on Oct. 5.
Political science professor Nelson Wiseman at the University of Toronto suggests the premier has a difficult balance to strike.
“If the pandemic’s bad, the economy’s going to be bad. All kinds of businesses which have just been hanging on by their fingernails because of government subsidies and other things are going to go under. A number have gone under already. If you walk along main streets you can see a lot of shops have gone out of business.”
On Sept. 26, hundreds gathered at Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto to protest the COVID-related restrictions the province had put in place. Ford was dismissive of those concerns at a similar protest in April.
“Ford called the demonstrators ‘yahoos,’” Wiseman said. “Those demonstrators had voted for him. In fact, a friend of mine who is a doctor was at the demonstration. I pointed that out to him that he was subsequently called a yahoo and he was turned off.”
Wiseman suspects the political price will be minimal when election time rolls around. “People who voted for Ford and then become unhappy with him may abstain from voting rather than switching to another party,” he said.
Ford has enjoyed relatively high approval ratings recently, as the pandemic has boosted the popularity of many of the premiers. The most recent Anguis Reid poll on premier approval, conducted in August, shows Ford with 66 percent approval, a 30 percent rise since December.
Randy Hillier, independent MPP for Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston, remains critical, saying that many of the measures aren’t necessary.
Hillier told The Epoch Times that “disinformation, misinformation, uncertainty, and doubts” were spread early on. He said he believes that the severity of the illness should be measured by deaths and hospitalizations, not by positive test results.
The NDP maintains its criticism of Ford’s handling of the pandemic, including his back-to-school plan, noting that not enough funding has been provided to school boards to ensure proper safety measures. NDP leader Andrea Horwath told The Globe and Mail in September that Ford’s Progressive Conservative government “does not seem to be able to get in gear in time to be proactive when it comes to COVID-19.”
Of Ontario’s 4,828 publicly funded schools, 335 have reported at least one case of COVID-19. On Oct. 5 the province announced $35 million in funding for school boards in the priority communities of Ottawa, Peel, Toronto, and York to allow them to hire more staff and improve at-home learning.
“We’re going to work hard to make sure our schools stay open,” said Education Minister Stephen Lecce at a press conference.