Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Wednesday September 30, 2020
It’s time to consider shutting down casinos, theatres and malls, leading health expert says
As COVID-19 cases continue to pile up, a leading health expert says the Ontario government should consider shutting down casinos, movie theatres and shopping malls. Industry defenders, meanwhile, say closures would be unnecessary and unfair.
“Closing them completely should be a last resort. But I think we need to consider everything right now. How surgical can we afford to be?” said Dr. Abdu Sharkawy, an infectious disease specialist with the University Health Network.
Tuesday, Ontario had 554 new COVID-19 cases, down from a record-setting 700 the day before. But Sharkawy warns we haven’t come close to the peak of the second wave.
“I have no doubt that we’ll be seeing a thousand cases per day within the next two to three weeks,” said Sharkawy, who was surprised to see some Ontario casinos reopen on Monday for the first time since March. Casinos had been allowed to open since the province hit Stage 3 in mid-July, but casino operators had been negotiating unsuccessfully with the province to boost a 50-customer cap.
Those casinos are all managed by Great Canadian Gaming Co., which runs 11 casinos in Ontario, including at Woodbine and Mohawk.
Shutting casinos down wouldn’t be fair to the industry’s 17,000 workers in Ontario, said Paul Burns, president and CEO of the Canadian Gaming Association, the casino industry’s national trade association.
A spokesperson for the provincial ministry of health said the government is still monitoring the COVID situation across Ontario, and could implement further restrictions.
“The government, in consultation with public health experts, continues to review trends from a range of criteria on an ongoing basis to determine if public health measures need to be adjusted or tightened,” said Anna Miller.
Allowing just 50 customers into a casino that’s designed for thousands isn’t a money-maker, said Burns. Not that it’s being done for charitable purposes, he admitted.
“They wanted to demonstrate to public health officials that they could open and operate in a safe manner. It’s not economically viable at 50 people,” said Burns. Eventually, Burns said the casino industry would like to see more gamblers coming through the doors. (The Hamilton Spectator)