Canadian officials have released a broad range of public health guidelines provinces will have to consider in order to reopen economies stalled by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
But, as expected, the measures shared Tuesday didn’t contain any concrete timelines, noting the different regions will move at different speeds.
“A shared key objective is to minimize the risk of another wave of COVID-19 that forces governments to re-impose severe restrictions, further damaging the social and economic fabric of communities,” said a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday.
To that end, the statement outlined seven criteria and measures the provinces have agreed are “needed” before public health restrictions are loosened during this first wave of the pandemic.
Chief among them is that transmission of the virus is “controlled.” That means, according to the document, the numbers of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have stabilized and that the rate of new cases are “maintained at a level that health care systems can manage.”
On top of that, the provincial public health systems should have the capacity to “test, trace and isolate all cases” and governments should support the implementation of workplace protocols and put measures in place “to prevent the controlled spread of the virus in vulnerable populations” — including seniors, inmates, the homeless population, Indigenous peoples and essential workers.
In his daily address to Canadians on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau singled out controlled transmission of the virus and testing capacity as “key” to easing public health restrictions.
“For you, that means knowing that you’ll be safe at work when you go back,” Trudeau said during his news conference in Ottawa.
“You’ll see lots more testing. And if someone around you does test positive, you’ll be notified quickly so you can isolate.
“At work, there will also need to be specific measures and more equipment to keep you safe.”
Trudeau warned ahead of the guidelines’ release that the shared framework wouldn’t include “specific measures” but would “lay out the things that need to happen before we take any next steps.”
Still, the release of the guidelines comes after Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and PEI have already kick-started or announced their staged plans for loosening public health restrictions and restarting economic activity.
At first blush, those province’s plans don’t appear to deviate significantly from the shared guidelines released Tuesday. The Ontario government, for example, said it will consider the health system’s capacity to maintain high levels of testing and contact tracing for new cases, as well as sufficient access to ventilators and personal protective equipment.
However, hard-hit Quebec is already moving to reopen some elementary schools and daycares in May.
Asked whether he has concerns about Quebec’s back-to-school plans, as a parent and former teacher, Trudeau said Tuesday it’s “natural” that people might want to return “to a semblance of normality in the coming weeks” — but suggested the country isn’t yet at that point.
“One hopes that the trend lines will bring us to a place where we’ll be able to see that happen,” the prime minister said. “And at that moment, as the [Quebec] premier said, parents will be able to make their own decisions about what is best for their students and for their kids.”
Trudeau said the day prior that provincial and territorial plans don’t need Ottawa’s blessing, as most measures fall outside federal jurisdiction.
“They have the responsibility to do what is right for their citizens,” he said Monday. “I have full confidence in the premiers of the provinces and the territories to move forward in a way that is right for them.”
The statement on the guidelines released Tuesday noted that decisions to re-open the economy will be based on the principle of “science and evidence-based decision-making.”
“Until there is a vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19, strong measures must be in place for this new normal phase of living with COVID-19 to contain future waves or outbreaks and protect Canadians and economies across the country,” the statement said.
— With a file from The Canadian Press
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