Warning of a frightening new outlook for COVID-19 spread across the province, Premier Doug Ford promised new measures this week.
The current lockdown includes restrictions on non-essential work and the closure of restaurants, bars and other facilities. Officials also continue to urge residents to stay home and not visit with other. Yet there are indications that those measures are not doing enough.
On Sunday, the province reported 3,945 new coronavirus cases and another 61 deaths, with the seven-day average at a record high of 3,546 cases a day, the Star’s Ed Tubb reported. Toronto has recorded more than 2,000 deaths in total since the start of the pandemic.
So what’s next for Ontarians? The Star looked at further measures the province could still implement that have been rolled out in other jurisdictions.
Curfews have been imposed in places around the world, including Italy, the Australian state of Victoria and the Chinese city of Wuhan.
In the case of Victoria — a region of 6.4 million people that includes Melbourne — strict measures were imposed by the state government in August when the new daily case count hit 671. Those measures included a nightly curfew, restricting all residents from leaving home during the evening hours. At that time, the state had a much slower growth rate per capita than Ontario (with a population of 14.6 million) has now.
Quebec has imposed a nightly curfew on its residents, which requires them to stay home from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. Global News reported Saturday that provincial police issued more than 150 tickets on the first night of the lockdown, which is expected to be in place until at least Feb. 8.
Toronto officials said they haven’t ruled out additional measures but there’s no active planning for a curfew at this point.
Restriction of movement
The stay-at-home measures in Victoria included restricting travel within a five-kilometre radius from a resident’s home and allowing only one member of the household to leave home at a time for essential supplies or exercise, unless permitted for essential work. The curfew was lifted at the end of September as case counts fell sharply. On Sunday the state recorded just 13 new cases.
During the first wave of the virus, Italy — one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe — set up checkpoints requiring people to explain their movements, the New York Times reported.
Domestic border closures
In Victoria, the regional government closed borders to other hot spots where COVID-19 continued to spread. A small number of exemptions apply — for people passing through or truck drivers delivering goods, for example, the state website explains. Those without a permit or valid exemption can be fined more than $1,600 and police are patrolling to ensure compliance. Residents from hot spot areas within Victoria’s borders were required to be tested regardless of symptoms.
Atlantic provinces including New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island restrict visitors from other provinces except for work, medical reasons and a few other exceptions.
In a recent opinion piece in the Star, Dr. Hsien Seow, an associate professor at McMaster University and the Canada Research Chair in palliative care and health system innovation, made the case for imposing mandatory quarantines for international air travellers, as has been done in Singapore, Hong Kong and elsewhere. That would involve transporting arriving passengers to quarantine facilities, such as a designated hotel, where they would be forced to isolate for 14 days, rather than simply requiring travellers or returning residents to follow quarantine rules on their own.
Even though Ontario implemented testing at Pearson International Airport, the test is not mandatory. The federal government now requires most travellers and residents returning to Canada to show proof of a negative test 72 hours before departure. But Seow said “the test is only a snapshot in time and does not guarantee the traveller isn’t infected with COVID that will become detectable days later.”
Other jurisdictions have taken different approaches to students returning to in-person classes. In a report last summer, Public Health Ontario noted that in Singapore, schools only fully reopened after case counts had been steadily falling for months.
Last week the province delayed the return to in-person classes for elementary school students in southern Ontario until at least Jan. 25. That is also when secondary students are slated to return to class.