Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Thursday April 8, 2021
Ford government pandemic spin is wearing very thin
If you had the pleasure of watching Wednesday afternoon’s media briefing, in which the Ontario government announced its latest stay-at-home-order to fight the spread of COVID-19, you might have noticed two competing narratives.
The first came courtesy of Premier Doug Ford and Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams, along with Health Minister Christine Elliott. It goes like this: Even though the province has been listening to health experts from the outset, and has acted accordingly, the COVID variants are proving even more contagious and deadly than originally predicted. So in spite of everything the government has done, more is necessary, hence the one-month stay-at-home-order with new restrictions and clear directions to Ontarians; Stay home except for food and pharmacy needs, health-care appointments and outdoor exercise.
From Ford and Elliott in particular, you would have heard the word “decisive” used repeatedly along with “nimble” several times. In short, the government has done all the right things, but the darned variants are more nasty than anyone predicted, so this one big last push is needed.
The competing narrative came from journalists questioning the three. One asked what took so long when health experts were saying even before Ford pulled the emergency brake six days ago that a hard lockdown is essential to even put a dent in spread. Modelling weeks ago predicted the hospital admission and ICU overload we are now seeing. Local medical officers of health and public health experts including the government’s own science table have pushed for another stay-at-home lockdown, the kind we had after Christmas through until February.
There is a mountain of advice from health experts, all of it unanimous that the half measures imposed by Ford and his advisers a week ago wouldn’t be enough to slow the spread.
Yet it didn’t move aggressively to vaccinate vulnerable essential workers, it didn’t adequately lock down retail, leaving big box stores open with reduced capacity. It chose not to close schools, leaving the difficult call to local medical officers of health resulting in a patchwork of open and closed schools across the province. The government saw the frightening hospital admission and ICU capacity numbers, and the accompanying dire predictions.
Now, six days after it pulled the half-baked emergency brake, Ontario is under a stay-at-home order for the next month. And there is no guarantee that won’t be extended. Some form of lockdown is predicted for hot zones until the end of June.
You can make your own judgment on which of the two narratives is closest to the truth. But this has to be said: Had the government done what it was being advised to do much sooner, we would not be in this position. But it didn’t and here we are.
Somewhat lost in Wednesday’s news cycle was one of the most stark, potentially terrifying, developments to date in the pandemic. Government sources say the provincial cabinet will soon have to pass an order indemnifying intensive care doctors from liability for making decisions about which critically ill patients get treatment, and which do not. As they did in Italy at the height of the first wave, and in New York state.
The question came up in the briefing, and Elliott was quick to minimize it, saying that if Ontarians do the right things, those terrible measures won’t be needed. But the fact that the government recognizes the need for such protection is a brutal indicator of just how bad things have become.
Let’s hope critical care doctors don’t need to employ that protection. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial)