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OPINION: B.C.'s lighter touch on COVID-19 'lockdowns' pays off

B.C. fares better in many areas compared to other provinces
covid-19
DNA image of COVID-19. (via Getty Images)

One of the more curious developments from the COVID-19 pandemic is the impact it has had on the use of certain words.

No sooner had the pandemic been declared than words like “outbreak,” “exposure,” “droplets,” and “protocols” – plus phrases such as “social distancing” - became part of our everyday lexicon.

Then there is the word “lockdown.”

Few other words have found their way into common usage with so many different definitions attached to it. A debate also rages about whether it is a vitally important measure or if it is misunderstood or overrated.

It seems one person’s idea of a “lockdown” can differ substantially from another’s. In addition, it is far from clear that outcomes resulting from lockdowns (whatever form they take) are uniform in nature.

We only need to look at Canadian provinces to see this.

For example, Ontario has just implemented rigid (at least on paper) lockdown rules that include a “stay home” rule and varying degrees of rules for different businesses. Manitoba has had essential service “rules” for weeks now and Quebec has an 8 p.m. curfew, in addition to other restrictions.

Alberta and Saskatchewan have also tightened restrictions in recent weeks.

All these restrictions – and they vary in nature from province to province - have resulted because COVID-19 cases have recently surged in those provinces to the point of serious alarm. Hospital systems in a number of provinces face being overwhelmed, particularly ICUs, if the trend continues.

So far, there is scant evidence these restrictions are having a substantial impact on things. Over time, perhaps they will.

When we fit B.C. into this puzzle, things begin to look confusing when it comes to the so-called “lockdowns.”

B.C. has never had a rigid “lockdown” at any point in the pandemic and yet the province shows better outcomes on pretty well every COVID-19 health indicator on a per-capita basis than the locked-down provinces.

Hospitalization rates, active COVID cases, mortality rates: B.C. scores significantly better than any of the other provinces - I am excluding the Maritime provinces for comparison sake.

This comes after B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, has employed a decidedly lighter touch when it comes to restrictions. She has made fewer orders affecting fewer businesses and has consistently taken the approach the best way to flatten the COVID-19 curve is to convince more people to “buy in” to certain guidelines rather than being “forced in” to a tighter behavioural lifestyle.

Yet I am sure there are a number of people out there who think B.C. is, in fact, under a form of lockdown because of restrictions on such things as crowd control in restaurants and stores and mandatory mask-wearing in indoor public places.

B.C.’s restrictions pale in comparison to more rigid lockdown-type measures in other provinces. For example, this is the only province west of the Maritimes where it is still possible to sit at a table at an indoor restaurant and enjoy a meal.

At the end of the day, bending the curve appears to depend more on achieving a high level of public compliance with restrictions or guidelines rather than the rules themselves. Perhaps that is why lockdowns - however they are defined - sometimes work and sometimes do not.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.