The Shutdown Has Landed

This day has been dawning for many weeks: a shutdown, which became increasingly inevitable when other measures weren’t taken early enough and large segments of the population continued to act as if it were still August, a month in which Toronto saw one day in which there was only a single new COVID case.

Starting Monday, non-essential businesses in Toronto and Peel are closed except for curbside pickup and delivery. Outdoor dining is no longer permitted. Personal services such as hair salons are closed. So are gyms and recreation facilities such as swimming pools. Post-secondary schools will be limited to virtual learning, with a few exceptions.

The list of what’s open and closed is very similar to what existed in the spring shutdown.

Businesses allowed to stay open include grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, liquor stores, and convenience stores – all at 50% capacity. Doctors and dentists stay open, as do schools and child care centres.

Premier Doug Ford also announced new financial support, such as rebates on hydro and property tax bills, for affected businesses.

Today’s restrictions include a prohibition on private indoor gatherings with anyone outside your immediate household. Those living alone can treat one specific person as part of their household. Weddings, funerals, and places of worship are limited to a maximum of 10 people.

Those not following health regulations can receive a fine of up to $750; business fines can be $10,000.

This action comes against the backdrop of record-high cases and the increased numbers of hospitalizations, patients in intensive care, and the deaths which inevitably follow. In Toronto, which introduced its own restrictions after the Province wouldn’t take its advice, weekly case numbers are the same as last week – 3237 compared to 3267 – not yet evidence of any flattening of the curve, which would itself be inadequate when numbers are this high.

Drastic action was needed to keep the virus from overwhelming the medical system. In case we have forgotten what that might look like, look at pictures of mobile morgues in parts of the U.S. where both state governors and populations have denounced restrictions. Canada is not nearly at that stage but certainly could be if we were to hit the 60,000 new daily cases projected today by federal health authorities if we continue to behave as if everything is fine.

Even with this action, the situation is likely to keep getting worse for at least two weeks because it takes that long for new measures to take effect. We are already, for example, heading past the point where a shortage of ICU beds will put lives at risk through the cancellation of non-emergency but necessary heart, cancer, and other surgeries.

With bad COVID news coming from most of the world, it is unproductive to point fingers except to learn what to do better to avoid a next time. Evidence does point to the contrast between comparable places where the pandemic is being well controlled – the Maritimes – and those where lack of government action and personal responsibility is courting disaster – South Dakota. We seem to be somewhere in between – better than we could have been but certainly not perfect.

After a strong start, the Province recently failed to judge the threat, adopting absurd new standards designed to open things up even as models were showing impending disaster. Today’s announcement marks a welcome shift back to protecting health, balanced by additional financial support for struggling businesses. The Premier also urged residents to support local business rather than large online companies – a view I strongly endorse.

To make this work, we need a high level of public co-operation like we saw in the first wave. I admit to becoming increasingly frustrated with the selfish behaviour that is in part responsible for a shutdown of small businesses and rising deaths in long-term care homes.

Yesterday, I was inclined to blame the guy in front of me in the bank, who removed his mask to argue aggressively with the woman next to him. Or the man who then arrived behind me with his mask down below his nose. I was, as they say in the southern states, losing my religion – a term for becoming so frustrated that you lose your civility.

Today’s music video comes from R.E.M., a Georgia band. Songwriter Michael Stipe, whose lyrics are often deliberately ambiguous, was familiar with the term. So you can take the lyrics whichever way you prefer.

– John