“Guys, you’ve got to get it under control,” Doug Ford told reporters. “As simple as that. “
Health experts sound the alarm as coronavirus cases in Canada rise
But according to experts, it is not that simple. Since the stay-at-home order simmered, the rhetoric around what can and cannot be done has changed – sometimes quickly, sometimes regionally.
Experts say reopening bars and restaurants has only exacerbated the problem and that without more consistent messages and sanctions it will only get worse.
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What is missing?
A message of “hard love” is long overdue, said Dr. Prabhat Jha, epidemiologist at the University of Toronto and director of the Center for Global Health Research at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.
This message “must come from above”, especially as indoor catering is making a comeback.
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While the Ontario government may return parts of the province to earlier stages if necessary, this has not been clarified, Jha said. There are also no plans to take further action against young people who break the rules, such as imposing additional fines.
“People need to know that it can be closed again,” he said. “You cannot leave this (message) to the public health workers in every unit.”
Switzerland, since reopening its bars and restaurants, has shown “a lot of hard work and not a lot of love,” Jha said.
When a single positive case was linked to a nightclub, the health authority “quarantined the whole lot,” Jha said. Nearly 300 guests and employees were sentenced to a 10-day quarantine.
“Canada won’t be that draconian,” Jha said, but what Switzerland had in this case – which Canada lacks – is a contact tracing app.
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“The public health goal now is to prevent clusters of cases, so we need to speed up the contact tracing application,” he said. “Think about it: who is going to use the app? Mostly young people with cell phones. ”
The Canadian contact tracing app, COVID Alert, was scheduled to be tested in Ontario in early July before being released nationwide, but it encountered a problem. It is still unclear when it could be deployed.
Although the app is voluntary, Jha suggested that it could be used as a bargaining chip in bars. Cases among people in their 20s and 30s linked to bars have also erupted in Montreal and Vancouver.
“It could be something bar owners insist on. They could say, ‘No enforcement, no entry’, ”he said.
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Provinces that see increases linked to the bar scene could go so far as to send mobile test vans to areas where people congregate, he added.
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“Indoor gatherings, like bars, have been identified as potential hot spots around the world. We need strategies in place very quickly. “
Contextualize the message
But conflicting messages are a major factor for compliance, experts say, as they have been since the start of the pandemic.
Ford on Tuesday urged people not to go to parties. But, as many have pointed out on Twitter, telling people not to party while allowing bars to reopen is “not a fully cohesive public health message.”
Bars and restaurants across the country must comply with new guidelines.
But so far, the “one-size-fits-all approach” has been insufficient, said Dr. Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and science communicator based at the University of Ottawa.
Deonandan also fears that “disinformation, disinformation, rapid electronic information and political ideologies” are actively working against public health goals, further complicating compliance.
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“This pandemic is causing us to throw away the manual on how we conduct public health communication,” he told Global News. “Different people react differently to different messages… Messages need to be tailored to different age groups, socio-economic levels and other demographics.”
Contextualization is currently missing from messaging, he said.
“The carrot and stick model still applies. The stick rumbles – as Doug Ford does from his podium – and so does the enforcement of the rules, ”he said.
“The carrot is what we don’t focus on enough: that responsible behavior is heroic and that we all benefit from it.”
Young people are not immune
While cases in young people are on the rise, experts agree their risk of serious illness is still lower than most. From there, some experts have pointed to a feeling of “invincibility” to the virus and “lockdown fatigue” as reasons for the behavior change.
Either way, that doesn’t exclude them from the chain of transmission, Jha said.
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“We’re worried about interrupting transmission, not zero transmission because that’s unrealistic,” he said. “The role of young people is to understand that they are part of the chain and that we need their cooperation.”
Dr Jay Kaufman, professor in the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health at McGill University, said his Montreal neighborhood is densely populated with bars and restaurants and “irresponsible behavior” is common.
He acknowledged that if there is an economic reason to reopen these sectors and summer and good weather will play a role, “the message of protecting vulnerable people must be better disseminated”.
Canada’s deputy chief public health officer Dr Howard Njoo has advised people to stay away from bars and dance floors to avoid the rise in cases.
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But controlling behavior will ultimately rest on enforcement by authorities, Kaufman said, adding that public shame could help as well. Indonesia has at one point cracked down on rule breakers by uploading them to social media.
“To a certain extent, this is a natural consequence of reopening economies,” he said. “But young people… their inability to distance themselves and wear masks is classic selfishness.”
For Deonandan, the issues go beyond message marketing and reflect a “fundamental crisis of social value”.
He pointed to a quote by author and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, famously paraphrased by Uncle Ben in Spider Man.
“With great freedom (to go to parties and bars) comes great power (to infect others), and therefore requires great responsibility and great wisdom to use,” he said.
“This type of contextualization is missing from the message.”
– with files from the Canadian Press
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