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Sunday, May 31, 2020
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Reopening the economy likely a no-win situation

As the COVID-19 crisis drags on, governments are in a no-win situation. Facing pressure to reopen their economies, they’ll be damned if they do and if they don’t.

The economic hardships aside, people are becoming increasingly frustrated about staying at home, their usual social activities curtailed and acquiring the essentials more costly and inconvenient than they’re used to.

Rationally, we know these measures are in place for our safety and, more to the point, for the safety of others, family, friends and strangers alike. But rationality gets stressed a little thinner with each day, irrespective of individual financial situations. Some people will argue the relatively low number of cases, at least in comparison to worst-case scenarios, is an indication that we can begin returning to our normal lives. Others will counter the numbers are lower precisely because of the measures still in place.

While other jurisdictions have made tentative moves to reopen sectors of their economies, Canadian politicians are still making plans to go down that path. Federal, provincial and territorial governments on Tuesday agreed to a set of common principles for restarting the Canadian economy, a process based on scientific inputs.

There won’t be a uniform opening schedule, as each part of the country has varying numbers of outbreaks and degrees of risk. But each jurisdiction has agreed to a list that includes ensuring COVID-19 transmission is controlled, so new cases are contained at a level that our health care system can manage; sufficient public health capacity is in place to test, trace, isolate, and control the spread of the virus; and expanded health care capacity exists to support all needs, including COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients.

In Ontario, the Ford government has set out a three-stage process, starting with reopening those businesses that can immediately modify operations to meet public health guidance. Some outdoor spaces such as parks could be reopened, and restrictions on groups of more than five people attending events could be eased.

In stage two, more workplaces could be reopened based on risk assessments. The third stage would allow for the reopening of all workplaces and further relaxing of restrictions on public gatherings.

Progress towards restoring something resembling normalcy would be determined by monitoring the number of cases and the continued spread of the virus. Any spike in the numbers – a second wave or rebound period – would likely mean a reversal of any easing up on the rules.

In that regard, Canadian officials will undoubtedly be keeping a close eye on the results of reopening efforts in other countries. Already, some European countries have eased into restarting the economy, loosening restrictions on businesses and individual movements. Perhaps more telling will be the efforts of some U.S. states, as that country has been hardest hit by the coronavirus and some jurisdictions have fewer measures, such as testing, in place than do other countries allowing businesses to reopen.

The moves by places such as Georgia, which last week permitted the opening of the likes of salons, restaurants and theatres, will be veritable test cases for Canadian governments to monitor: if, as some health experts predict is possible, there’s a renewed outbreak of COVID-19, we’ll have a better idea of the risks involved. Likewise, if the reopening goes smoothly, we’ll have some reassurances.

The latter is no small thing, as we’ll be understandably hesitant to jump right back into previous routines. As much as we may chafe at being stuck at home, the prospect of a sitting down at a busy restaurant or rubbing elbows at a show may be more of a concern when it shifts from a daydream to an actual option.

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