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LETTER: The case against Alert Level 2

Health Minister Dr. John Haggie and Chief Medical Officer of Public Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald during the first COVID-19 media briefing of 2021. VIDEO IMAGE
Health Minister Dr. John Haggie and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald deliver the first COVID-19 media briefing of 2021, with the help of an American sign language interpreter. — VIDEO IMAGE

I have to wonder, while the rest of Canada is more or less in semi-permanent lockdown, are we sure the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador’s choice to remain at Alert Level 2 is the right one?

I’m not so sure. It almost feels as though our government is more concerned with the appearance of precaution than considering the practical need for it; toeing some collegial line with the other struggling provinces.

Maybe that sounds harsh. But if we look at this logically, I fail to see the reason for continuing to limit businesses in our community.

COVID-19 Alert Level 2 government’s “focus is to control transmission while maintaining health system capacity throughout further re-opening of social and business activities.” In practice, that means patrons at restaurants not in the same bubble must remain six feet apart while sitting at a table, and retail spaces must limit capacity by around 50 per cent — among other requirements.

That would make sense if transmission was likely. Right now, as seen over the past several months, the chances of a COVID-19 outbreak are slim.

As of this writing, there are seven active cases in Newfoundland and Labrador. Those, and the majority of the previous cases, have been contained, travel-related incidents.

Effectively, there has been no community spread since the Deer Lake cluster in late November. When that happened, the town immediately shut down to stifle the contagion. It worked.

Same thing happened in St. John’s when a sports grill had a patron who tested positive. They closed, they contact traced, it was resolved.

Since then, nada.

Yet, we continue to force businesses into limited occupancy. Downtown, there are lineups out the door while the lucky warm few shop (probably in a somewhat rushed manner) — a strong disincentive to go shopping at all. Restaurants operating at half-capacity suffer by an unviable business plan; we all know the thin margins of profit they rely on in the best of times.

We are no longer going to experience a deluge of COVID-19 outbreaks. They will be isolated and seldom. That is the profound privilege we enjoy as the island part of a province that acted swiftly and thoughtfully and that still maintains a stringent quarantine regime.

Now would be the time to exploit that entitlement.

Restaurants are languishing. The Tim Hortons on Duckworth Street has closed — a Tim Hortons, of all places. Starbucks before it. St. John’s lost Mill Street Brewery and Bier Markt, too. The list of casualties goes on and could continue to mount with limited capacity as a capstone of the government’s current requirement for businesses.

Instead, we should be aggressively opening everything up. Businesses have been smashed since Snowmageddon — who’s to say another is not waiting in the wings? Companies reliant on trade and export contract as COVID-19 persists most everywhere else in the world. The tourism industry is likely paralyzed for years. We need to ramp up local consumption and create an environment where businesses can maximize profits.

We would not be the first region to do so. Australia’s major provinces were hit hard by COVID. Then they initiated a “Go for Zero” scheme to completely eviscerate the virus. They did. And now, but for mandatory quarantine for international travellers, life is back to normal. In fact, the provinces hit the worst hard had the best recoveries. New Zealand — now declared COVID-free — is experiencing similar normalcy.

Let’s wear masks for the rest of our lives. Let’s wash our hands, stop shaking hands, keep a distance when we can, stay home when we’re sick (and be compensated for it) and follow all of the rest of the pragmatic health protocols that are easy to adhere to without any negative consequence.

Likewise, should the virus return, let’s lock everything back the hell down and, until then, ensure we have the policies and mechanisms in place to do so. When/if an outbreak happens, our economy will hopefully be in a better position to withstand another momentary freeze.

But until then, let’s not pretend we are like the rest of Canada. We are not. And our communities and its businesses should not suffer under that facade.

Adon Moss

St. John’s

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