The Ontario COVID-19 Bioethics Table is deeply concerned about the enhanced enforcement measures outlined in the Ontario government’s stay-at-home order that was issued on Friday, April 16th and amended on April 17th. Although some of the most alarming enforcement measures in the April 16th order have been modified, the concern remains that Black, Indigenous and other racialized people are more likely to be targeted by heightened policing and surveillance compared to those who are white. The enforcement measures fail to adequately address the root causes of transmission of COVID-19 in Ontario and will undoubtedly negatively and disproportionately harm racialized persons, essential workers, persons with disabilities, poor and working class communities, and others who have already been profoundly impacted by COVID-19.
Public health measures that restrict fundamental human rights in order to meet critical public health goals must be: (1) necessary, (2) proportional, and (3) the least restrictive alternatives possible. The enforcement measures fail on each ground. They cannot be deemed necessary as such measures have not been shown to be effective at reducing COVID-19 transmission. They are not proportional as they will further increase the burdens that society’s most disadvantaged members have experienced during the pandemic. Lastly, there are less restrictive measures that could be implemented to reduce transmission.
We commend the decision to extend the stay-at-home order by two weeks in response to the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table’s advice. We urge the Ontario government to consistently implement evidence-informed public health measures grounded in public health ethics. Provision of provincially mandated paid sick leave is one such measure that is urgently needed.