Canadians have been doing their part to protect our country and our fellow Canadians from COVID-19 for several weeks. The growth rate of infections is dropping, and we may be seeing light at the end of the tunnel.
What Canadians need to know—now—is what their government’s plan is to get the country reopened. We are beginning to see governments in Europe ease some of their restrictions, and in the United States, President Trump released a plan yesterday to allow counties and states with lower levels of infection to begin phasing their reopening over the coming months.
We may be waiting at least 18 months for a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19. Canadians cannot spend 18 months locked in their homes. This isn’t just about economics—though that would bankrupt families, communities, provinces and the country. The harm that an extended lockdown would cause to the health and wellbeing of Canadians is massive. Everyday I hear from Canadians about those struggling with their mental health in isolation.
Once the initial wave has passed, we need to find ways to let people resume some kind of a more normal life until we have a vaccine. It won’t be business as usual. There will still need to be precautions, and we will need to remain vigilant, ready to reimpose preventive measures quickly if we detect a second wave. Employers will have to keep up social distancing measures in the workplace and ensure adequate supply of masks, gloves and PPE for workers.
I have been talking with businesses, large and small, about how they are using this downtime to plan for the post-COVID-19 era. Many of them are already making plans for how they will safely resume their business operations, and they are wondering why Canada hasn’t made a plan too.
It is becoming clear that a plan needs to include the following:
- An aggressive system of mass rapid testing for all those with symptoms and their recent contacts, and approve innovative technologies quickly to test for previous exposure and immunity.
- Domestically sourcing and producing the masks, PPE and medicines needed to prevent shortages.
- While safeguarding the data privacy of Canadians, deploy technology to rapidly identify those who have been in contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19 and a system for ensuring that they quarantine until they are tested and cleared.
- Procedures for screening and mandatory quarantining of all those who arrive in Canada.
- Distribute masks in places where crowding is hard to avoid like transit and require people to wear them.
- Industry-specific health and safety rules that allow businesses to reopen in ways that minimize risks.
- Community-specific plans to allow regions where there are very low or no rates of infection to reopen faster while limiting movement to keep those communities virus-free.
- Continue to promote working from home where possible, but allow a phased reopening of industries that can implement health and safety protocols and limit gatherings of people.
- A gradual easing of rules and guidelines to allow people to physically distance without being socially isolated. This could start, for example, by reopening parks and walking trails, and allowing a slow increase in gathering sizes over time.
- We must protect our veterans, the elderly, and vulnerable people in care homes without cutting them off from family and community. Communication technology can be deployed to care homes to help maintain physical distancing without socially isolating vulnerable people.
Canadians need to know that our government has a plan. They are struggling—both economically and increasingly also physically and mentally—from the shutdown. Knowing that our government has a plan to get them back—to work, to seeing family and friends, to living their lives—is crucial.
Canada’s businesses, of all sizes, are taking a lead in making their plans to reopen while keeping workers and customers safe. Canada needs to show leadership nationally so Canadians can plan for their futures and know there is much to look forward to after we get through this together.
Erin O’Toole is the MP for Durham and candidate for Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.