Editorial – Tsunami warnings ignored

For decades a system of monitoring stations have existed in British Columbia, monitoring for seismic activities, underwater landslides and other activity. This monitoring provides data to government officials, warning of a possible tsunami that could impact the coastal communities, causing catastrophic damage and loss of life.

Ontario has had a similar system in place, developed during the initial waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. Data was collected by the Ministry of Health from hospitals and public health units measuring testing, new infections, outbreaks, hospitalizations and deaths, along with vaccination levels. This monitoring provides government officials warning of a potential health care crisis that could impact the system.

Where this system differs from that of BC is that Ontario’s government officials failed to act when the early warning signs of an Omicron-fueled wave of COVID-19 infection was about to hit.

The alarm bells of a new surge in infections began to go off in late-November 2021 in Kingston. Testing demand and new infections rose sharply. This was also just three weeks after Ontario lifted capacity restrictions at most indoor venues. Infections in other areas of Ontario began to rise shortly after the increases began in Kingston. The alarm was ringing for a month before any changes to public health measures were made. Why?

There appears to be a fear of making difficult choices at Queen’s Park until the last possible minute. This speaks to a reactionary style of leadership in Ontario, one that does the most amount of damage. Instead of putting in measured restrictions early to stem the infection increases and mitigate the stress on the health care system, the government chose wishful thinking, hoping the warning bell going off was a glitch – it clearly was not.

At his news conference January 3 announcing restrictions that closed indoor dining again, closed arenas and indoor recreation programs, and moved two million students to remote learning, Ontario Premier Doug Ford called this wave of the pandemic a “tsunami.” The difference between this pandemic tsunami and the waterborne-type is the BC coast gets, on average, about a 30 minute warning of an impending tidal wave of destruction. Ontario had over 30 days of warnings to prepare for its pandemic tsunami. After two years of planning, and spending, and experience, the Ford government failed again to get it right. Let’s hope the warning signs are heeded next time.

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