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Reopening will continue only if we avoid another spike

It’ll be nothing like normal as we knew it before the COVID-19 crisis, but most businesses and public spaces can be open on Friday as Ontario moves into stage 3 of the government’s reopening plan.

Only what public health officials deem high-risk operations – the likes of amusement parks, buffet restaurants and dance halls – will remain closed in areas deemed ready for stage 3, a list that includes Waterloo Region, and Wellington and Perth counties.

That doesn’t mean a return to pre-coronavirus conditions, of course. Many restrictions remain in place, and the province has released more than 170 health and safety guidance resources covering a wide range of workplaces.

It’s most decidedly not a free-for-all. The reason for that is obvious: having got the situation largely under control, the province doesn’t want to see an explosion of COVID-19 cases in the manner we’re now seeing in the U.S. The situations aren’t exactly comparable, as we opted to keep the reopening under wraps until the number of cases stabilized at a low level, whereas many of the jurisdictions in the States now seeing large outbreaks opened too much and too soon, leading to an inevitable outbreak.

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 stretched 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, are 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 we’ve seen reopening as a largely linear matter – restrictions are continually loosened, more parts of the economy are revived – we should know by now that might not be the case. It’s a sure bet that health officials will be watching closely for any change in the number of cases, which have dwindled to only a few new additions each day. They shouldn’t hesitate to reverse course if there’s a spike attributable to reopening.

Shutting things down again should be the immediate step if any new outbreak is the result of people ignoring the new rules in place. Again, we can look to the south to see what happens not only when the reopening is too broad, but when a whole bunch of people, many of them younger folks who somehow feel immune to the virus, start acting as if the problem has passed.

Even if we all follow the new guidelines, however, there may still be an uptick as a result of more of us gathering in more locations. There, monitoring will be key to determining the reason for any increase, though the results – closures, lockdowns – may be the same.

It’s important that each of us does his or her part, not just out of consideration for the health of others, but also to ensure that the reopening continues such that the economy starts to recover. Governments have extended programs to offset the economic downturn, but such supports cannot go on indefinitely – Ottawa, for instance, is already forecasting a $343-billion deficit.

No one wants to see the crisis drag on any longer than needs be. As the U.S. is finding out, earlier lockdowns and wider adoption of measures such as wearing masks would have saved thousands of lives and put the country in a better position today. Instead, an attempt on my jurisdictions’ part – aided by a federal government that abdicated responsibility – to return to normal too quickly only prolonged the pain, suffering and economic losses.

Let’s behave ourselves out there.

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