Saturday, May 23, 2020

The "new" Doug Ford is starting to unravel

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has repeatedly claimed that he "won't hesitate" to lock down the province again if it looks like the recent limited opening up of the economy is starting to make the province's pandemic figures worsen. That, of course, is the right thing to say, but what does it actually mean in practice? "Very little" is the answer, I fear.
The re-opening of stores, recreational spaces, individual sports, etc, was supposedly predicated on a very specific set of circumstances and criteria: a consistent two to four week decrease in new COVID-19 cases, adequate hospital capacity to cope with any potential surges, a 90% record for contact-tracing, and a robust and comprehensive testing regime. Well, that didn't all happen, did it? - particularly not in the first and last criteria - but Ford went ahead and initiated Phase 1 of the re-opening anyway, even though his own chief medical officer Dr. David Williams said, just two days earlier, that the province had not met the criteria, and that it was not ready for Phase 1.
In fact, Ontario's new COVID cases are consistently hovering above the 400 mark un recent days, substantially above the 326 of a few days ago. New cases have been trending upwards for 10 days now (on a five-day rolling average basis). Mr. Ford calls it "concerning"; Dr. Williams blames it on people being more casual over the last few weekends than he would have liked. Some people are (half-heartedly and unconvincingly) talking about a "Mother's Day blip", and it is definitely too early for it to be the result of looser lockdown rules which are only a couple of days old. This is a general trend, despite Dr. Williams' and Health Minister Christine Elliot's (equally unconvincing) contention that the overall trend is still downwards.
Ford is clearly much more concerned with keeping up with other provinces, states and countries that are in a much better position to ease lockdown restrictions than Ontario is. He has repeated ad infinitum that he is all about "the figures" and "the science", and that he will always go by the advice of his medical advisors. But that is not what we are actually seeing. Call me cynical, but we are seeing a man completely out of his depth, saying and doing whatever he thinks will boost his re-election prospects.
And now, despite his assertion that he won't hesitate to go back a step if need be, he is doing just that, hesitating. When asked specifically by a reporter what criteria he is using to decide when to abandon Phase 1, he merely changed the question and did not answer, meaning that either he has no science-based criteria, or that he is not willing to reveal them in case he is called out on them.
Once the genie is out of the bottle, it is really hard to stuff it back in again - I could have told the Ford administration that for free, long before they made the fateful Phase 1 announcement, had they asked. So, don't expect any contra-announcements any time soon, if at all. Moreover, once you start suggesting to people that the pandemic is sufficiently under control to allow stores to open, it is (apparently) human nature for people to make all sorts of other unjustifiable assumptions based on that - I could have told them that too. So, people are already noticeably less observant of social distancing and mask-wearing than they were just a couple of weeks ago. That part of the message has been lost, or filtered out, amid all the noise.
Doug Ford has repeatedly blustered about how he is going personally see that province ramps up its lacklustre coronavirus testing program, which has consistently underperformed. And almost every day, during his daily briefings, he complains that he is sorely disappointed that the province's testing figures are still nowhere near goals. But, he says, day in and day out, he is "on it", "like a hawk", "like an 800-pound gorrilla on their backs", etc, etc. Mr. Ford, you can only make definitive promises that do not pan out so many times before it becomes apparent that you are actually lying, or not as in control as you like to suggest, or just plain incompetent.
Many people have said that they have been pleasantly surprised by Doug Ford's performance throughout the pandemic, but I think that is only because they were expecting so little from him. To be fair, he could so easily have gone full Trump/Bolsonaro on this - that would not have been out of character, and was probably more in line with people's expectations of him. But his compentent, caring image is starting to unravel (possibly starting with his ill-advised invitation of his daughters to his house over Mothers Day in direct contravention of his own rules). If he fails to re-impose lockdown rules when "the figures" dictate, his reputation will be back to tatters

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