Why relaxing COVID-19 restrictions in some parts of Ontario is 'dangerous' move
TORONTO -- Despite the fact that over half the COVID-19 cases in Ontario are reported in the Greater Toronto Area it would be dangerous to relax restrictions in other parts of the province not dealing with widespread outbreaks, an infectious disease specialist says.
According to Ontario health officials, COVID-19 cases recorded in Toronto-area public health units account for 63.3 per cent of all patients in the province – a number that has slowly increased in recent days.
This statistic has prompted calls from some officials, like the mayor of Kingston, Ont., to allow individual health units to relax restrictions at a rate appropriate for the number of cases in each area.
For example, there have been 9,129 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Toronto, while Kingston-area health unit, KFL&A Public Health has reported 62 cases, of which 61 have resolved.
"It's the idea that many are being penalized for the infliction to a few places," infectious disease specialist Dr. Abdu Sharkawy told CTV News Toronto on Thursday. "The problem with that attitude is it breaks down once you see movement of people."
"If we take the example that everything outside the GTA is given a different set of restrictions, invariably you will see people will migrate to those areas and decide the rules no longer apply. That's human nature."
"Human nature is prone to finding loopholes, to exploit freedom where it is available."
Sharkawy said it only takes one "super spreader" to travel into a relatively unaffected region in the province and cause serious issues.
"It doesn't take much for things to break through that shield – for problems to start migrating," he said. "That’s what we need to avoid by regionalizing too much."
Sharkawy said there is credibility to altering restrictions province-by-province but believes it becomes too difficult to manage when dealing with smaller regions.
Provinces like Ontario and Quebec continue to be the hardest hit by COVID-19 in Canada. In Ontario, there are more than 24,000 cases and in Quebec there are 44,000 cases.
By comparison, British Colombia has less than 2,500 cases and Nova Scotia has just under 1,500. Both provinces have a different set of restrictions that officials believe is appropriate for controlling the virus. In Quebec, restrictions are being loosened at a slower pace in Montreal, which is the epicentre of COVID-19 in that province.
"There is some credibility to the argument that within each province there is probably a different approach that is safer, but within provinces it’s dangerous," Sharkawy said.
He said it makes "common sense" why more densely populated areas, like Toronto, are having a tougher time controlling community spread.
"We have higher risk communities here, a higher rate of homelessness, mental health institutes, people of lower socio-economic status crammed into tighter spaces – it's much easier for viruses to spread."
Sharkawy said he understands people's frustration from other areas in the province not struggling to control COVID-19 but said the "insidious nature of this virus can't be overstated."
He said if rules are relaxed in less populated regions of Ontario that "people will move and people will start to spread (COVID-19) in those communities."
Ontario Premier Doug Ford has also rejected rolling out a regional approach to reopening the province.
Meanwhile, there are some examples in Ontario where local officials want tougher restrictions to help contain the spread of COVID-19. In Peel Region, west of Toronto, a top official said Wednesday that 20 per cent of all new cases in the provinces were in that area, despite only 10 per cent of the population living there.
Peel Region Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh said that the region needs to take a more cautious approach to reopening. Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown said on Wednesday that Peel Region will not be able to return to a new normal as quickly as the rest of the province.