Adam: Ontario’s COVID-19 policy has been a constant battle for balance

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We will never know how much worse the situation would have been if Ottawa had been spared the shutdown, as Mayor Jim Watson and Etches wanted. But what we can be sure of – and what we should take from this experience – is that when it comes to fighting the pandemic, there are no perfect decisions, just the best decisions under the circumstances. Which is what Ford did.

When the premier made the decision to include Ottawa in the shutdown, the city indeed had one of the lowest infection numbers in the province. On Dec. 21 when Ford made his announcement, Ottawa reported 31 new cases. By Christmas Eve, it was 62. The cases per 100,000 people for the city were at 29.2 with a testing positivity rate of 1.2 per cent.

Ottawa was a model of compliance, successfully keeping infection rates low. Based on the numbers at that time, Watson and Etches were not entirely wrong to criticize Ford for lumping Ottawa in with hot zones in the GTA where infections were running wild. Watson was worried about the impact of the shutdown on small businesses and the local economy as a whole, and he was right to be. “There are simply no facts to support a lockdown in the City of Ottawa,” he said.

True at the time, but COVID-19 infections are not about moments in time. You have to look at the big picture. Besides, Ottawa is not an island. It’s a big city in a large region where people freely come and go, with a wide-open border with West Quebec. COVID-19, of course doesn’t know boundaries and there are no lines it won’t cross. Ford was concerned that despite Ottawa’s low numbers the virus could spread from other places; better to err on the side of caution with a blanket shutdown. As January came, the city’s numbers started to go through the roof and Ford’s fears may have been justified. Over the first seven days of the month, Ottawa’s infection rate per 100,000 people was 82.6 and a its testing positivity rate of 4.7 percent. Compared with December, this is a nightmare, and no wonder Etches sounded the alarm.