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A look at when and how Canada could reopen after COVID-19 closures

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WATCH: Trudeau stresses 'it will be weeks more' before government considers easing restrictions – Apr 15, 2020

Canadians across the country have been holed up inside their homes for weeks, unable to go to work or school, as the country works to flatten the curve of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

But, as time wears on, many are wondering how and when things will return back to normal.

When will Canada be ready to lift restrictions and what will that look like? Here’s what experts say.

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When will restrictions be lifted?

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it will be “weeks” before Canada can “seriously consider loosening the restrictions.”

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Trudeau said it would be “terrible” if restrictions were released too early, because it could allow another big wave of COVID-19 to hit Canada.

He said while people are becoming impatient “across the country” we must “continue to hold on to what we’re doing now” to make sure the sacrifices are worth it.

READ MORE: ‘They’re scared’: How COVID-19 is impacting the mental health of doctors, nurses

Last week, Trudeau said based on federal modelling, some of Canada’s restrictions could potentially be loosened sometime in the summer — if the first wave of the virus subsides.

He cautioned that Canada could see additional “wavelets” of the COVID-19, and said the country will not return to normal until a vaccine is developed.

READ MORE: A 2nd wave of COVID-19 is possible. Here’s what that means for Canada

Craig Janes, director of the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo, said assuming Canada has the necessary health infrastructure in place, Trudeau’s tentative timeline of lifting some measures sometime in the summer seems “reasonable.”

“The virus will dictate the timeline more than we [do], but I think that in the summer or something like that seems a reasonable time frame at this point,” he said.
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But, Steven Hoffman, director of the Global Strategy Lab and a professor of Global Health, Law, and Political Science at York University, said the measures probably won’t be lifted at the same time across the country.

READ MORE: Travellers need ‘credible quarantine plan,’ may be forced to stay in hotel: Trudeau

“We might start to see some provinces open schools and others not –that doesn’t mean that one province is right and the other province is wrong — that might just mean that there’s a different situation in each province such that there’s a different strategic choice that should be made,” he said.

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Hoffman cautioned that the restrictions cannot be lifted all at once, or Canada could end up undoing some of the “hard earned successes” achieved through practising physical distancing.

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READ MORE: The new reality of coronavirus for Canadians: focus of new Global News program

“If we just lifted all the measures we just go right back to that time when there was exponential growth in cases of COVID-19,” he explained. “We are almost as susceptible now as we were some weeks ago, unless we keep the measures in place which are protecting us and helping stop the spread of the virus.”

What will reopening look like?

When the time is right, Janes said he expects the first things to be reopened will be businesses where people can work safely.

“I suspect that things like restaurants and other venues that really depend on bringing people into fairly crowded spaces, I suspect that those were probably the last ones to open,” he said.

He said it will need to be a “gradual easing,” with only a certain list of essential services allowed to open “a bit at a time.”

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Janes added, though, that everything is interconnected and government will need to consider that when lifting measures.

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“Everything is linked, so you open up one thing — say you suddenly open up workplaces — you can’t without also thinking about how you’re going to open schools or daycares or day camps for kids,” he said.

When it comes to knowing which measures to lift, Hoffman said it is about prioritizing which are “the most costly and least helpful” in containing the outbreak.

“The challenge is that it’s not that simple because we have to also think about it in the context of the other interventions that are already in place,” he said.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: What is herd immunity and what does it mean for COVID-19?

Hoffman said a good example of this is the border.

He said Canada may, at some point, be able to allow international travellers again, but would need to keep in place other stringent measures at the border, like adamant screening and enforcing the strict 14-day quarantine.

Both Janes and Hoffman said Canadian officials are also likely taking cues from countries who have already begun lifting their measures.

This helps Canada to prepare for a number of possible scenarios, Janes said.

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WHO guidelines

The World Health Organization on Tuesday released a set of guidelines it says countries should follow when thinking about loosening restrictions.

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The guidelines outline six areas officials must consider when they are looking to resume activities.

The list includes making sure transmission of the virus is under control, ensuring the country’s health care system is equipped to detect, isolate, treat and trace all cases, and making sure communities are able to adapt.

The WHO said countries must also ensure outbreaks at health facilities and nursing homes are under control, and that measures are in place at workplaces and schools to prevent further spread.

READ MORE: More than 1,000 people have died in Canada from COVID-19

While Hoffman said the WHO guidelines are “very good,” he cautioned that it shouldn’t be viewed as a checklist because they are all “highly interrelated.”

“The more public health capacity we have, the more our health care system can start to go back to normal,” he said. “Or the more that governments are able to implement multiple layers of protection before we start to see them able to peel back some of the most stringent dimensions of those layers of protection.”

“It really has to be about integrating across them and thinking of it holistically,” he said.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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