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Coronavirus: Economist says reopening provinces without vaccine could backfire

Economist says reopening provinces without vaccine could backfire
WATCH: Saskatchewan and Alberta economies are set to reopen. An economist says doing so without a vaccine puts Canadians at risk.

The governments of Saskatchewan and Quebec are scheduled to begin lifting restrictions, designed to limit the spread of COVID-19, and reopen their economies on Monday.

Alberta‘s plan began on Friday.

Even with millions of Canadians laid off and eager to return to work, an economist says reopening without a vaccine for the novel coronavirus could backfire.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan to start reopening from the coronavirus pandemic on May 4

“You can open, there’s nothing saying you cannot,” said Moshe Lander, an economist at Concordia University, “[but] I would strongly advise against it.”

Several provinces have announced plans to reopen. The plans entail different businesses opening in different stages, with dates set for some stages and not for others.

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The phases without an opening date will be determined after the initial openings have taken place and the infection rates do not rise.

All the plans mention the need to continue to social distance, but Moshe says they all are lacking something essential — a vaccine.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Kenney hopes to begin reopening Alberta economy in May, working ‘around the clock’ on relaunch

Without one, Lander said, “there really is the risk that just it takes one person and we’re all going to find ourselves back where we started.”

He said the economic costs of another outbreak and forced closure after reopening would be more severe than the first time the country went into lockdown.

The process of restarting supply chains — of ordering supplies and hiring back employees — only to have to cancel everything will just cost more money with very little income to show for the effort.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: As Saskatchewan plans its reopening, can history offer lessons?

“You could imagine that restaurants are going to start putting in orders, suppliers start shipping in food and things like that. Having to cut it off in the middle is going to be a much bigger loss for those restaurants than just remaining shut for a couple more weeks,” he said.

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Lander said provinces having different schedules to restart their economies creates more problems.

Either the closed province will be pressured into opening ahead of schedule, ruining the efforts to flatten the curve, or it could be forced to close its borders to protect residents, hurting any ongoing trade.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Ontario government releases guidelines for businesses to reopen safely

“I think this was the mistake the federal government is making — they’re not insisting that everybody moves together,” he said.

He said there could be confusion for border cities like Lloydminster, which is split between Alberta and Saskatchewan, and Flin Flon, which is in Manitoba but on the border with Saskatchewan.

If Lloydminster adheres to the Saskatchewan schedule then Alberta residents are not adhering to the timetable in their own province. If people who should be in isolation so as not to spread the virus are not, then the work and economic pain of the past few weeks have been wasted, he said.

“It’s best that, if you’re going to [reopen]… to do it slowly and make sure that you get it right the first time and not land yourself in a situation where you have to close down again in a month for two more months of quarantine and isolation.”
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