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Premier Ford relying on undisclosed coronavirus experts, raising questions

Ford maintains that Ontario's changes are a result of expert advice though there has not been much disclosure about the experts providing the advice.

Sam Edwards High Level Alberta

Ontario Premier Doug Ford promised full transparency throughout the course of the coronavirus outbreak back in April.

As the government continues to make changes to the provincial reopening strategy and testing protocols, Ford maintains that the changes are a result of expert advice though there has not been much disclosure about the experts providing the advice and exactly what they are saying, reports CBC News.

Critics say that this situation does not allow medical professionals or laypeople to understand the province's choices and what the science suggests moving forward.

The virus continues to be a pressing issue in the province and the premier agreed to be open and honest with the public on topics such as scientific modelling of the potential number of illnesses and deaths.

"You deserve the same information I have. You deserve to see the same data I see when I'm making decisions," Ford said at the daily briefing on April 2.

"You deserve to know what I know when you're making decisions for yourself, your family and community."

Over two months later, close to 31,000 cases of the virus have been recorded and there have been almost 2,500 deaths.

"I don't think [Ford] has an expert on speed dial," noted Colin Furness, a University of Toronto professor who is an infection control specialist.

"The decision making tells me it is not being driven by expertise."

Premier Ford often says he is taking advice from Ontario’s chief medical officer, Dr. David Williams along with the COVID-19 Command Table which reports to Christine Elliott, Ontario’s minister of health.

Williams has a joint masters in the subject of epidemiology and community health though it seems that he may be the only expert around the table who has a specialized background in outbreaks and infectious diseases.

The command groups co-leaders are Matt Anderson and Helen Angus. Anderson is the president and CEO of Ontario Health and Angus is the deputy minister of health. The two have a lot of experience in the field of healthcare administration but do not have scientific credentials.

When the CBC attempted to gain the names of other members of the community table, they weren’t provided by Elliot’s office or the Ministry of Health. The government only maintained that the members were representatives of relevant ministries.

A flow chart released in early March on the province’s coronavirus response shows that members are mostly deputy ministers. This would mean that the Command Table members also include bureaucrats that have backgrounds in public relations and history as well as a former Toronto cop.

According to a ministry spokesperson, the Command Table also uses the advice of “external experts who each serve voluntarily.”

Furness said that the government has not asked for the advice of anybody he knows, which he finds odd because there are many experts in the educational institutions and hospitals in Downtown Toronto—which is very close to Queens park.

"You don't even need bus fare," he said.

As the crisis continues, Furness says that the decisions made by the government have mystified him. He touched on the first phase of reopening, which allowed household staff and cleaners to return to work.

"I mean who is sitting around the table saying we've got to let butlers get back to work?" Furness said

Dr. Dominic Mertz, an associate professor at McMaster University and the medical director of infection control for Hamilton Health Sciences, says he is in the dark about the provincial situation.

"I would love to know who's advising them and what that advice was. And what the underlying assumptions are," Mertz said. "I feel like sometimes the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing."

"I don't know what the rationale is," said Mertz. "I doubt that things will be any better locally in a few weeks, or months, from now."

Mertz said he believes a more scientific approach to the provinces reopening should take things like ICU capacity and local health care or infection rates per capita, instead of just case numbers.

Steini Brown, who is the dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at U of T said, "There is so much misinformation on COVID-19 that the more transparency we have around scientific advice and progress of the pandemic, the stronger foundation we'll have for engaging the public in the fight."

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