COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Ontario and Quebec due to the long anticipated second wave. In response, both provincial governments chose to reinstate modified Stage 2 restrictions in certain hot spots. This means that people in these regions are now required to follow stricter rules in hopes of flattening the curve. While it’s still too early to know the impact of these shutdowns on COVID-19 rates, tensions are rising with businesses and municipalities about how to handle this wave of the pandemic compared to the last one.
In Quebec and Ontario, indoor dining has been suspended, fitness centres have closed their doors and movie theatres and museums have followed suit. Health officials have encouraged people to put their social bubbles on hold and to only come into contact with the people in their households. With positive COVID rates and hospitalizations on the rise, these moves have been styled as necessary to avoid overwhelming healthcare systems or stressing ICU capacity.
At the same time, this has been a major setback yet again for businesses that had adapted their establishments to be COVID-19 compliant, such as allowing fewer patrons and changing store layouts, while at the same time spending money for PPE and other retrofits. Now, many of these businesses are calling on the government for data and evidence to back up their decisions. For example, a group representing thousands of businesses in Ottawa asked Premier Ford earlier this week for an immediate meeting about the province’s decision to close certain establishments in COVID-19 hot spots for a 28 day period. The open letter asked the province to review its decision and tailor restrictions to Ottawa Public Health’s (OPH) recommendations for the city which are based on local data. Even if this data is provided, the province is unlikely to change its mind. Local cabinet minister Lisa MacLeod noted that while the province finds these decisions difficult, they’re doing what they feel is necessary to keep people safe.
The second covid wave is likely to be accompanied by political vulnerabilities for politicians. A recent survey from our partners at Abacus Data found that, while Premier Ford’s approval remains high, it’s down 8 percentage points since May. Premier Legault’s popularity has been high since May, but his approach has differed slightly from Ford’s. While Ontario is seeing competing advice about how to treat Hallowe’en, Quebec is moving ahead with trick-or-treating (with restrictions). These attempts at some level of normalcy are likely to sit well with residents who are growing weary of the prospect of more large-scale lockdowns. However, if lockdowns don’t move the needle on active COVID-19 cases in Quebec and elsewhere, politicians will likely face further scrutiny about the efficacy of this policy (or on the other side, not locking things down faster).
COVID-19’s first wave saw politicians make decisions quickly for the good of public health, often in the absence of information. Now that we know more about the virus, the stakes are higher for the way politicians are treating the second wave. Many Canadians are getting frustrated by the pandemic; they want life to return to normal and feel confident about the future of the economy. The next few weeks will be critical for politicians in justifying not just the actions they’ve taken these past two weeks, but in dictating how to respond ahead of the holidays. If patience is wearing thin now, it’s likely to get even worse if voters are told that Christmas is cancelled.