A leading epidemiologist is slamming some aspects of the Ontario government’s decision to double down on COVID-19 restrictions Friday, saying that Premier Doug Ford has the science behind his soon-to-be-enacted measures “absolutely upside-down.”
University of Toronto professor Dr. David Fisman expressed his frustration in an interview with Global News shortly after the premier’s press conference, where he announced more COVID-19 restrictions aimed at slowing down the record-setting spread of new cases in the province.
“The reason it’s so frustrating to hear stuff like this is he’s got the science absolutely upside-down,” he said.
Fisman, who is also a member of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Table, took aim especially at the government’s decision to restrict nearly all outdoor activities while keeping some indoor settings like big-box retailers and religious settings open.
“We know in Ontario that the huge drivers right now of transmission are workplaces, particularly industrial workplaces, warehouses, Amazon distribution centres, post offices,” said Fisman.
“We know a lot of the folks who are getting sick are lower income or have poor job security, can’t stay home if they feel sick.”
According to Fisman, what the premier should have done instead was to double-down on stronger ventilation in indoor settings, increased COVID-19 testing and paid sick leave for those in essential businesses.
“And I didn’t hear any of that today. I didn’t hear any of that in today’s press conference … It’s so ridiculous.”
Fisman, who has also been a vocal critic against the government’s decision to reopen schools, called the premier’s decision to restrict outdoor activities “absolute madness.”
“You know, you’re taking away the safe options from people as you do nothing to impact the places where the disease is spreading at a time when our ICUs are literally collapsing,” he said.
Public health experts and epidemiologists have previously pointed to responsible outdoor recreation and gatherings as one of the last safe ways people can enjoy being in public settings during the pandemic.
Several others in the province have, alongside Fisman, expressed frustration over what they feel is an unnecessary mandate from the government.
The new measures also include increased police powers and provincial checkpoints, which will go into effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday. Other measures, including limiting capacity for in-person religious settings, funerals and weddings to 10 people, will go into effect on Monday.
Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones told reporters on Friday that police and bylaw officers will now be able to stop motorists and pedestrians to ask them for ID and why they’re not home — immediately drawing widespread condemnation as a form of “carding” from activists, Ontarians and members of provincial opposition.
“It’s a Black Friday of rights slashing by Queen’s Park today, risking a rash of racial profiling and overbroad police powers, presuming everyone outside guilty until proven otherwise,” said the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
Ontario NDP MPP Gurratan Singh referred to Ford’s announcement as “police carding,” while Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca referred to the police powers as “martial law.”
Fisman said that Ontario was reaching a point where a person may not be able to receive care should they get sick in the coming weeks over the province’s “saturating” intensive care system. Several experts, including Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam, have since rung the alarm bell on a potential ICU crisis in the country’s COVID-19 hotspots.
According to Fisman, the province’s public health crisis could be controlled through good policies, practice and leadership — something he says Ontario doesn’t have.
“…. It’s going to bite us in the long run. You may have short term profits from these places, but our economy is going to be sunk for much longer than it would be if we chose to control this thing, which we could do if we had different leadership.”
— With files from Global News’ Nick Westoll and Jessica Patton