Ignoring social distancing? Get ready for a second coronavirus wave, CMA head warns

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Thousands gather in Toronto park'
Coronavirus outbreak: Thousands gather in Toronto park
WATCH: (May 24, 2020) City officials in Toronto are condemning the "dangerous" behaviour of people who flooded a popular downtown park on Saturday, saying they could cause a surge in COVID-19 cases. Footage taken on Saturday from Trinity Bellwoods Park depicts masses gathering on a warm, sunny day. – May 24, 2020

One of Canada’s top doctors got a neighbourhood-level view of how not to fight the COVID-19 pandemic last weekend.

Dr. Sandy Buchman, president of the Canadian Medical Association, lives near Trinity Bellwoods Park in downtown Toronto.

The park looked more like an outdoproor music festival on Saturday when warm, sunny weather attracted a party-hearty crowd of 10,000.

Despite pleas from political leaders and public-health officials to avoid large social gatherings, throngs of sun-seekers jammed into the park, bringing a weary rebuke from Premier Doug Ford.

“Why don’t you do us all a favour and go get tested now,” Ford snapped.

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For Buchman, who leads the largest professional organization for Canadian doctors, the swarm was disappointing to see.

“I live about two or three kilometres from the park,” Buchman told me.

“We still have inadequate testing in Ontario. We are not targeting people in high-risk occupations like grocery-store clerks or transit drivers. We don’t have very good contact tracing.”

In other words, people who ignore social distancing guidelines could make it even tougher on doctors and other health-care professionals trying to monitor and contain the virus, especially if a second wave hits even harder than the first.

Buchman is one of many senior health officials across the country now warning Canadians against complacency in the battle against COVID-19.

“A second wave is inevitable,” he said. “There’s never been a pandemic in recorded history that has not had a second wave, and usually it’s worse than the first one.”

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A second wave could likely hit in the fall, but — like the first one — the arrival date and impact will vary by region, Buchman said.

“It may be sooner rather than later, depending on how well it’s controlled in any particular region of the country,” he said.

Is Canada prepared for a COVID counter-punch? Buchman doesn’t think so.

“I don’t think we’re ready in those regions that are still fighting it,” he said.

“Our rates in Ontario are still going up so we’re not even really through the first wave yet.”

As public officials warn Canadians to brace for a second wave of the virus, Buchman said he has heard complaints in some quarters that the cure is worse than the disease.

“I get it,” he said. “We have people subject to mental health problems, serious depression or people exposed to intimate-partner violence.”

He said anti-virus lockdowns have other less-obvious side effects, like people ignoring other health problems as they shelter at home.

“We are already seeing a decrease in childhood immunizations because people are afraid to go to the doctor to get their kids’ shots,” he said. “We are seeing the impact of people not managing their diabetes or their chronic obstructive lung disease or their heart disease.”

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There’s also the negative health outcomes associated with pandemic-driven poverty.

He said that’s why it’s critical for all provinces to take a careful approach to reopening their economies, balancing a return to a “new normal” while continuing to take the precautions necessary against another flare-up of the virus.

“We have to find that right balance,” he said. “If we open up too quickly, with a second pandemic in certain areas like Ontario and Quebec, we will be locked down again.”

It’s a sobering message that could be lost on a weary, cooped-up population seeking relief as the weather improves.

Mike Smyth is host of ‘The Mike Smyth Show’ on Global News Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and a commentator for Global News. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews​.

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