OTTAWA – A group of 18 prominent health experts in Canada, including the two previous chief public health officers of Canada, is calling on the federal and provincial governments to change their strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The group is calling for an end to attempts to eliminate the coronavirus, instead advocating for an approach where Canadians would learn to live with it.
“It’s a fool’s errand,” Dr. Neil Rau, an infectious disease specialist with the University of Toronto, says. “We’re not going to win with that strategy.”
Rau argues business closures, mandatory masks, and complete border closures are doing more harm than good for employment and the wellbeing of our society, and adds these things disproportionately affect low income and racialized Canadians.
“Poverty has huge health impacts on people. Health is wealth, wealth is health,” Rau says.
He says trying to stamp out COVID-19 will not work and we need to accept that the coronavirus is with us at least until a vaccine is developed.
Rau joins other experts in calling on governments to further relax lockdown measures and not return to the Phase 1-style restrictions we saw in the spring, even if there is a second wave.
“We strongly believe that population health and equity are important considerations that must be applied to future decisions regarding pandemic management,” the open letter, dated July 6, reads.
“Canada must work to minimize the impact of COVID-19 by using measures that are practical, effective and compatible with our values and sense of social justice,” the letter adds. “We need to focus on preventing deaths and serious illness by protecting the vulnerable while enabling society to function and thrive.”
The experts are also concerned about the development of children and are calling on the federal government to create a national strategy to reopen schools in the fall across the country.
They note Canada needs to “improve infection prevention and control in long-term care and congregate living settings,” while also providing support for those who choose to isolate “when the disease is active.”
Support should also be provided to people “who have been adversely affected by COVID-19, or the consequences of the public health measures,” the letter adds.
“Canadians have developed a fear of COVID-19,” the experts write. “Going forward, they have to be supported in understanding their true level of risk, and learning how to deal with this disease, while getting on with their lives – back to work, back to school, and back to healthy lives and vibrant, active communities across this country.”