One of Ontario's top scientific advisers says he considered quitting after latest COVID-19 restrictions
TORONTO -- A top scientific adviser to the Ontario government says he considered stepping down after the newest round of public health measures were announced by the province.
Peter Juni is part of the COVID-19 Science Table, a group of scientific experts and health system leaders who evaluate and report to the Ontario government on emerging evidence relevant to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Juni told CTV's Your Morning he considered leaving his job after the province's latest round of restrictions because of the inequities they created.
"This pandemic is extremely dominated by social inequities. People who are in essential workforce outside of health care, people [who] live in precarious living situations etc -- that's the people who suffer most, the neighbourhoods where these people live, that's those that we can't get under control pandemic-wise," Juni explained in an interview on Tuesday.
Juni said he wasn't upset with the restrictions, "just desperate." He said the restrictions need to address these social inequalities in order to make a difference in Ontario’s increasing daily case numbers.
The Ontario government announced new measures on Friday, including more restrictions placed on outdoor activities, granting police sweeping new powers, and capping limits on the size of weddings, funerals, and religious services.
The new restrictions, which included the closure of outdoor playgrounds, were followed by a swift public backlash. Playgrounds were reopened almost immediately, and officials clarified Saturday that police would only be stopping people outside if they had a reason to believe they were heading to an organized event or social gathering.
However, the government’s attempt to partially walk back the measures has spurred more criticism, as there have been no announcements of new strategies that advocates were hoping for.
Juni says the main factor missing from the new restrictions is paid sick leave.
"If you want to get the pandemic under control, you need to address this root cause… and if the province wants to get this under control, and tries to do that without efficient paid sick leave, it won't work," Juni said.
"It's as simple as that."
Juni explained that the federal paid sick leave is too complicated, untimely, and not enough money to actually help Canadians.
He said the federal paid sick leave is "being used throughout Canada as an argument not to do something" that would mitigate the impact of the pandemic.
In addition, Juni said the limiting of outdoor activities and playground access further perpetuates social inequalities.
"We learned that, during the last six to 12 months, this virus drives indoors and much less outdoors. So outdoor space is not 100 per cent safe, but it's much safer if you do the right thing outdoors, and it just didn't make any sense to close playgrounds in this situation," Juni said.
He added that enhanced policing and putting the responsibilities on individuals also leads to disparity.
"Again, it increases inequity, as does closing playgrounds because those who have a backyard will still have their backyard for their kids, those who live in a flat don't, obviously. But the policing then again just makes people responsible out there. This is this blaming mentality that doesn't work here," he explained.
To get the pandemic under control in Ontario, Juni said the people who need to be held responsible now are employers.
"The employers need to make sure that only workplaces are open that are really essential, and employers need to make sure that their staff is actually safe," Juni said.
He noted that government enforcement should then involve more workplace inspections, increased sanitization, and greater support for businesses to keep their employees safe.
Juni and the province’s COVID-19 Science Table have been providing weekly summaries of relevant scientific evidence to the Ontario government so they can make informed decisions about public health measures.
However, Juni says he "unfortunately" does not believe the provincial government has heeded the advice.
"This is really about listening closely, having an open mind and forgetting about political considerations. So no, they haven't," Juni said.