Some experts say Ontario’s stay-at-home order does not go far enough in helping the province stem recent surges in COVID-19 cases.
Infectious disease expert Dr. Abdu Sharkawy told CTV News Channel on Thursday that the order, which came into effect Thursday at midnight, is only a “symbolic gesture.”
“There are too many vagaries about what people can define as essential or non essential. There’s all kinds of uncertainty and confusion around how enforceable this will be,” Sharkawy said.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the stay-at-home order on Tuesday, saying that everyone will be required to remain at home, with the exception of going out for essential purposes, such as going to the grocery store, pharmacy, accessing health-care services, exercising, or essential work.
The stay-at-home order will remain in effect for at least 28 days. However, there has been some confusion among Ontarians about the rules and what is or isn’t considered essential.
Sharkawy says the measure lacks clear messaging and is missing aid for those working in essential environments in some of the province’s hardest hit areas.
“Frankly, I’m disappointed that this is the approach that we’re taking rather than looking at helping people and helping the essential workers and those that are trying to do their best, but have no choice but to leave home,” Sharkawy said.
Sharkawy said providing options such as paid sick leave and better testing access for essential workers is a “key element” missing from Ontario’s measures to stem the pandemic.
“They’re not getting paid sick leave, they’re not getting access to testing, they’re not getting isolation facilities and support that they need and I think that that would be entirely more helpful, and more constructive than telling people that they just need to stay home,” he said.
While the order is expected to help reduce transmission, Sharkawy said he is getting “very worried” about ICU capacity across the province. He said some hospitals have begun sending COVID-19 patients to ICUs in other cities as they continue to fill up.
“It’s not a safe thing to have to send patients potentially 100 kilometres away to another ICU when they’re critical. That takes up a lot of time and resources, and it’s not necessarily the safest way to monitor patients and yet this is becoming commonplace now across the province,” Sharkawy said.
He explained that the hospital he works at, Toronto Western Hospital, has started accepting patients from Barrie, Scarborough, and Brampton. Sharkawy warned that this means the facility could soon reach its capacity and have to turn away patients for other emergencies.
“This is not sustainable. It’s something that really needs to be addressed, and our surge capacity is only going to go so far, and it’s going to harm people and limit the care that we can provide for people who are having heart attacks and strokes or coming to the emergency room with a serious car accident,” Sharkawy said.
“We don’t want to be in that position where we can offer them the most ideal and safe form of care, because our ICUs are full,”” he added.
Infectious disease expert Dr. Lisa Barrett told CTV News Channel on Thursday that the stay-at-home order will reduce case numbers in Ontario if residents actually follow the guidelines.
“People are going to have to step up, and the government is going to have to provide support for people who can stay home to get out safely,” Barrett said in an interview from Halifax.
Barrett says a stay-at-home order should have been issued sooner in Ontario. She explained that health officials in the province anticipate the current measures to have the same impact as those issued in the spring at the start of the pandemic. However, Barrett said the measures aren’t the same and the new order doesn’t provide enough clarity on what is and isn’t allowed.
“If you don’t do a real lockdown, you’re not going to see the results that you would see with a real lockdown,” Barrett said. “Vaccine can’t fix this — one or two doses — until people have pulled back in and taken some of that responsibility back into themselves.”
Barrett stressed that the province cannot rely on its coronavirus vaccine rollout to stem cases, but acknowledged that the province could move faster with administering inoculations.
According to data compiled by CTV News, the number of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered in Canada surpassed one per cent of the country’s total population on Wednesday.
As of Thursday afternoon, Canada has administered more than 433,000 vaccines, 159,021 of which have been in Ontario.
Sharkawy says the province could get out more vaccines quicker if Ontario expanded who can administer the shots.
“I think we need to enlist the support of pharmacists and family physicians, and anyone who’s already trained to administer these vaccines and get them going,” Sharkawy said.
While he acknowledges that the province has done better in recent weeks to speed up vaccinations, he said Ontario is “nowhere near at the pace” that it should be.
“We don’t need to have a perfect plan but we just have to get as many people vaccinated as possible and I urge the premier and the ministry to really put their heads behind this, and get things done,” Sharkawy said.