Ontario minister says COVID-19 pandemic messaging to stay home is 'falling on deaf ears'
Michael Tibollo watches election night results in Vaughan, Ontario on Monday, October 19, 2015. (Peter Power/The Canadian Press)
TORONTO -- An Ontario cabinet minister is acknowledging that the government's pandemic pleas are "falling on deaf ears" due to COVID-19 fatigue and cautioned that the length of the lockdown will depend on adherence to the public health protocols.
Michael Tibollo, the minister responsible for mental health, said that despite the challenges, the current second wave lockdown is a "necessary" step in trying to reduce transmission rates.
Despite several regions of the province being in lockdown since late-November, Tibollo says Ontario is only "at the very beginning of seeing a change" and conceded that the province's stay-at-home orders may not be having maximum effect.
"Our attempt to tell people stay at home, keep your hands sanitized, wear a mask, it's falling on deaf ears in a lot of cases and we were trying our best with that," Tibollo told reporters during a news conference on Thursday.
Despite the lackluster results, Tibollo said it would be "irresponsible" of the government to not respond to the growing health-care crisis associated with lockdowns and added that finding a middle ground is needed.
"The lockdown is necessary," Tibollo said. "It's not a question of whether we should or not, it's a question of how long does a lockdown have to be."
Ontario's Chief Medical Officer Of Health said earlier this week the province's daily case count would have to fall to 1,000 per day in order for the lockdown to be lifted. Ontario's seven day average of new cases currently stands at 2,751 down from 3,452 one week ago.
Tibollo says in order to reduce rates even further, the province has to focus on the horrible realities of the pandemic, including the death caused by contracting the virus.
"I lost a family member, an aunt to my wife, who went to buy a loaf of bread, and that's all it took and she died," Tibollo said.
"We have to start appealing more to people's instinct of survival."
Mental health issues amid the pandemic concerning, Tibollo says
Tibollo also expressed concern with the rise in mental health and addiction issues related to the pandemic which, he said, is "overarching the waves of COVID-19."
Tibollo said his ministry has tracked increased cases of substance abuse, alcohol dependency, anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation – making mental health a top consideration when deciding further restrictions.
"It's a very complicated and difficult circumstance that we're in, but the government has to weigh the health and safety of individuals, physically, with the opening of the economy and permitting more of the social activities and things that people need to have in their lives," Tibollo said.
"In cabinet, the discussions are always trying to balance ... the impact of the lockdown on individuals. How can we alleviate some of the stress that we're seeing more and more anxiety?"
Premier Doug Ford says the province is putting $3.8 billion dollars over 10 years into mental health and addictions and said the government has to get the money flowing to people in the province during the pandemic.