As health officials work to stave off a second wave of the novel coronavirus pandemic, experts say clear communication — not fines — are key to making sure Canadians comply with measures to mitigate the virus’ spread.
Speaking in a rare evening address last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the country’s four largest provinces are already experiencing the second wave.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the total number of daily cases is now at the same level as was reported during the first peak of the virus in April.
On Tuesday, 1,657 new infections were reported across the country.
Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, said this time around Canada has more knowledge about the virus, and can be “smarter and far more targeted” in its approach.
“There are very specific things we need to do, like closing bars and closing restaurants, that’s enforceable,” he said.
“And if we do these things with alacrity, we may not need to impose on individual liberties more than we have.”
However, Furness said what we’re seeing now could just be the “last chapter of the first wave,” with the real second wave bringing many more cases and fatalities.
“I’m expecting it to potentially get very horrible at the end of October,” he said.
“That’s really when flu season starts and it’ll be two weeks after Thanksgiving, and the cold weather’s in,” he said.
Dr. Timothy Sly, an epidemiologist and professor emeritus at Ryerson University’s School of Public Health, said another full lockdown will probably be a “last resort” for Canada.
He said if Canada were to fully lock back down — including shuttering businesses and closing schools — it would need to be for at least two incubation periods or four weeks.
“But whether the society is ready for that, I don’t know,” he said.
Enforcing COVID-19 rules
On Saturday, police officers had to close the town of Wasaga Beach to non-residents after hundreds of car enthusiasts gathered over the weekend.
By Monday, officers said more than 200 tickets had been issued in relation to the event.
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Furness said “generally,” you don’t want to have enforcement when it comes to public health “because it backfires.”
However, he said there are some exceptions.
“When you get really, really outrageous behavior where someone is hosting a party, I would actually fine the host,” he said. “And I think that has been happening a bit.”
What works better, Furness explained, is establishing social norms that people feel shame when they fail to follow.
“You really want lots of people talking about what a destructive behavior this is, it would be great for people to consider who they’re infecting,” he said.
Craig Janes, director of the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo, echoed Furness’ comments, saying coercive measures are important, but that Canada should probably “avoid punishing people” for skirting COVID-19-related rules.
“I’m not sure that being super strict and fining people or imprisoning them or charging them with violations is all that effective,” he said.
He said clear, direct and honest communication about the risks associated with the virus is a more useful approach.
Furness also said he would like to see more social messaging, saying there should be billboards and advertisements on TV and online about the virus.
“We could really be spending money on establishing what is safe and what is not safe and thinking about the consequences,” he said.
Majority of people compliant
What’s more, 83 per cent of the respondents said they would support shuttering most non-essential businesses if the country did experience a second wave.
Ultimately, Sly said the majority of Canadians seem to be following the COVID-19-related measures.
“I think it’s become sort of a new normal,” he said, noting high compliance with masks and maintaining a safe distance from each other in public places such as grocery stores.
Furness said it should be a “fairly small job” to “exert influence on those who aren’t.”
— With a file from The Canadian Press