The number of COVID causes in Ontario is rising, hospitals are operating over-capacity, there are already record numbers of COVID patients admitted to Intensive Care Units, and more patients are coming.
The expected wave has become a crisis, and after weeks of seeming denial, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced a series of partial measures to begin on Saturday, December 26.
Ford wishes to be liked, wishes to be popular. Instead, he is increasingly unpopular as the population grows more frustrated for various reasons. Few are pleased with half-measures and indecisiveness.
"The situation is extremely serious and further action is required to avoid the worse case scenario", stated Premier Ford during a press conference on Monday. "Make no mistake, thousands of lives are at stake".
He announced the Province will delay new COVID restrictions until December 26 - while asking people to not gather outside their households on Christmas Day December 25.
Premier Ford says he decided against implementing measures on December 24 to give businesses more time to prepare for the province-wide measures.
Less than two hours prior, in the same building, the medical experts of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table called for a series of immediate measures, including "hard lockdowns". They stated that delays to implementation of measures will result in more COVID infections and more COVID deaths.
Ontario is now reporting over 2000 new COVID cases per day, with over 300 COVID patients projected to be in hospital by the end of next week. In the past month, COVID hospitalizations have increased 70%, with a 80% increase in ICU admissions.
Ontario's hospital association is expressing surprise and disappointment at the delay. Hospitals have been warning for weeks of the strain of COVID upon the health system and mental health of health care works.
Trying to Be Liked by Putting Off Tough Decisions
Doug Ford's latest indecisive action garnered him (and his Cabinet) criticism from commentators in right-wing leaning media. The criticism is temporary, already right-wing pundits are returning to focusing upon the Federal Liberals (claiming international travel is the problem), and writing the other political parties (and non-right wing pundits) would be worse for Ontario.
Compare this to the Conservative press in the UK which is blunt in regards to Prime Minister Boris Johnson's similar approach to COVID.
Throughout the pandemic, Ford has tried to position himself as a likeable empathetic friend.
At major junctures of Ontario's COVID crisis, the Premier delivered rosy statements and reassurances COVID is under control - even when the numbers proved the opposite.
When restrictions are implemented, they seem rash because they are disconnected from previous statements.
People are rightfully frustrated and angry as a result. In parts of the province where COVID is under control, the question is being asked why?
Ottawa's Mayor Jim Watson was blunt in his frustration at the 28-day shutdown, requesting Ottawa be . Ottawa's public health officials and municipal leadership acted in September and October to get COVID under control in their juristiction, and their present Weekly Incidence Rate is hovering around 30. This is less than half of Ottawa's peak of around 70 in October. Having been the only large city to successful lower its COVID rate this fall, Mayor Watson's frustration is justified.
Mockdowns and Keeping Big Box Retail Open
It does not help our public discourse that we are calling restrictions "lockdown" when until this week, nearly everything has been open just with reduced capacity. [I look forward to the academic research on this terminology, how did we come to call the past few weeks a "lockdown"]
"What part of “now” and “action” does Mr. Ford not understand?" asks Globe and Mail health columnist André Picard in response to Ford's press conference. "“Mockdown” would be a more accurate descriptor because it makes a mockery of the term “lockdown.”"
Picard notes a common complaint - from all sides of the political spectrum - with the half measures. Big box retail remains open if they sell food, but many small retailers are closed. This is patently unfair.
We've Tried Nothing and Failed
Pick your saying. Rinse and repeat.
The aggressive tone of media questions to the Premier today, and Twitter commentary in some conservative circles, reflects a growing frustration in many quarters at half-measures.
I will not prognosticate on Premier Ford's political prospects post-COVID. His desire to be liked during COVID is resulting in frustration, but as we saw with right-wing pundits today, Ford's political base is still loyal to the brand and they like other political parties leaders even less.
There is little about the new half-measures which indicates they will decrease the strain upon hospitals in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area and in Windsor-Essex. The measures may work in the regions where COVID spread is low, the chains of transmission may be broken there.
As for us in Hamilton, this is not a "circuit breaker" "lockdown", at best it will be a light dimmer and we will continue to struggle with the consequences of COVID half-measures into Spring and potentially beyond.