As COVID-19 infiltrates every province and territory in Canada, the Premiers are stepping up their efforts to limit non-essential contact and stem the spread of the virus. In accordance with federal directives, leaders have ordered limits on the number of people allowed to assemble, but the numbers vary widely – from 50 or less in British Columbia to zero in Quebec.
Experts are concerned that the wide range of limits could confuse Canadians and minimize the severity of the pandemic. They advise that it may be time for the federal government to “take the helm” and publish a national standard.
“The number five or 10 is not magic,” said Craig Janes, director of the school of public health at the University of Waterloo. “It’s really just a signal that we don’t want big gatherings and so, they just define” big “in a different way.”
In mid-March, the federal government banned meetings of 50 or more people. In the past two weeks, most provinces and territories have significantly reduced their limits by more than half to mitigate the local spread of the virus.
Quebec, the most affected province with more than 4,000 confirmed cases and 33 deaths, has implemented one of the strictest bans, banning gatherings of two or more people.
Ontario – the second hardest hit province – and Nova Scotia have banned public groups of more than five members. Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador and the Yukon have made orders prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people. Despite a small number of cases, the Northwest Territories, Prince Edward Island and Nunavut have banned all public gatherings.
Alberta and British Columbia – which report the third highest provincial number of COVID-19 cases – are relatively more lenient, the former allowing up to 15 people to congregate and the latter still preaching federal directives.
Choosing a number depends on two factors – the risk of infection in a province and the authorities responsible for the risks are ready to take, according to Dr. Brenda Coleman, specialist in infectious diseases at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto.
“There is a fairly large gap between the provinces,” she said. “For example, Manitoba doesn’t seem to have as many (cases), while Quebec has quite a few. Quebec is therefore obliged to say that there must be smaller groups of people to reduce the risk of transmission. “
Tim Caulfield, a public health and law expert at the University of Alberta, also says that unscientific factors come into play. “(The leaders) balance the realities associated with their jurisdictions,” he said. “Local authorities, what the community thinks, the size of the areas. If it’s a big city, you will want to reduce this number to increase the possibility of effective social distancing. “
In the end, “there are a lot of case-by-case analyzes for each community,” he added.
Most provinces have declared a state of emergency, giving them the power to restrict the movement of Canadians within their jurisdiction and to shut down non-essential services to slow the spread of COVID-19. “I think because of the growing understanding and appreciation of the rapid spread of the disease, (the provinces) have reduced the number of public rallies,” said Brett Skinner, who heads the Canadian Policy Institute health.
However, last week, Dr. Kevin Smith, president of the University Health Network, called on the federal government to invoke the Emergency Act in response to COVID-19. By law, the power to prohibit travel and to restrict the operation and distribution of essential services and goods would be vested in the federal government.
“I want to see it so that we can smooth this curve and prevent any further spread of this deadly virus,” he told CP24. “I think we have to do everything we can and it is what we don’t do that we will regret from now on. “
Janes agreed, explaining that it is important to keep in mind the “lag” between the time of infection and the number of cases. “Everything that will happen in three weeks will be linked to the infections that are happening now,” he said.
“So my preference is, there are consistent messages across the country … rather than leaving it to each prime minister to decide what would be most politically acceptable.”
The inconsistent messages could also be attributed to the speed with which each prime minister responded to the crisis and the current spread of the virus in each province, according to David Zakus, who teaches public health at the Dalla School of Public Health. Lana. “It is interesting to see how even some prime ministers woke him up at different rates,” while others were already resisting the virus with social distancing, etc., he said. “If there had been a strict national infrastructure from the start, we might have even been in a much safer position rather than waiting for each province to board and look at how the other provinces are suffering before going up to edge.”
It is also important to note the proportion of people infected in a province compared to the total population of the province. Five cases in Ontario versus five in Saskatchewan mean different things, he said. “Right now, what we are doing is telling people the actual prevalence numbers when we should be telling them the ratio,” he said.
“If we keep hearing different things from different jurisdictions, it could add a little to the confusion,” he said. “And right now, there is no room for confusion. “
However, this is not to say that Canadians should use email differences as an excuse to take the virus lightly. “I think governments are signaling to the public that this is a serious crisis,” said Skinner. “It is clear to anyone watching the news or reading the newspaper that this should not be taken lightly. “
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020