Feds should invoke Emergency Act now before COVID-19 outbreak worsens: UHN head
Chris Fox, CP24.com
Published Thursday, March 26, 2020 4:14PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, March 27, 2020 8:19PM EDT
The head of a major network of Toronto hospitals is calling on the federal government to take the extraordinary step of using the rarely used Emergencies Act to restrict the movements of Canadians in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Dr. Kevin Smith, who is the president of the University Health Network, made the comment in an interview with CP24 on Thursday afternoon.
His comment came as the province confirmed a record 170 new cases of COVID-19, up from 100 new cases one day previous.
“I want to see it so that we can flatten this curve and prevent any additional spread of this very deadly virus,” he said. “I believe that we should do everything we can and it is what we don’t do that we will regret from this time forward.”
Governments of all stripes have taken increasingly drastic measures to reduce the potential for crowds to gather, including in Ontario where all non-essential businesses have now been ordered to close.
So far, however, the more restrictive quarantine and shelter-in place measures that have been implemented in other countries like Italy have not yet been put in place in Canada, though public health officials have increasingly warned that they could be coming.
By invoking the Emergency Act the federal government could prohibit travel, direct people to “render essential services” and regulate the “distribution and availability of essential goods, services and resources,” among other things.
“I think it really is all about social distancing and not being able to congregate. I know it really hard. We had a beautiful day yesterday and it has been a long winter and people want to get out but I think we really need at this time the powers that would allow law enforcement and others to step in and say ‘I am sorry, that is just not acceptable. You are putting our society and our most vulnerable at far too much risk,” Smith said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has previously said that his government will not hesitate to put “more stringent measures” in place in order to enforce social distancing. Trudeau, however, has said that he is not at the point of invoking the Emergencies Act “at this time.”
Smith, who network includes Toronto Western, Toronto General and Princess Margaret hospitals, said it might be time to change that position amid the continued global increase in COVID-19 cases and the revelation that community spread is now happening in Toronto and elsewhere in Canada.
“I have a hypothesis and that is that those people who have just come back (from abroad) probably tolerate more risk than most of us as they stayed away or even went away during this very challenging time when we were warning over and over again about the risks of travel,” he said. “If they have just come back I suspect that they will continue to think a higher degree of risk is OK and it is not OK. We are putting our most vulnerable people at risk and in addition to that we are asking frontline healthcare providers to take risks that are unnecessary.”