circuit breaker lockdown

This is what a circuit breaker lockdown could mean for Toronto

The COVID-19 situation in Ontario is worsening with every passing day, and some are now calling for a circuit breaker lockdown in the province's hotspots, including Toronto, as a method to slow the spread and avoid overwhelming the healthcare system. 

The concept has been used in several countries around the world and is being discussed in more than one Canadian province at present, so many Toronto residents are wondering what exactly it could mean for the city if implemented here. 

What is a circuit breaker lockdown? 

According to leader of the Ontario NDP Andrea Horwath, one of the public figures currently calling for such a lockdown in the province, a circuit breaker is "a targeted, fully-funded 2-week modified Stage 1 in hotspots only."

In other words, it's a strict lockdown which would see the closure of all non-essential services and businesses for a short period of time with a set end date.

As Horwath mentioned, the strategy would likely only be implemented in the province's COVID-19 hotspots, including Toronto, Peel Region, Halton Region, York Region and Hamilton.

How long would it last?

The minimum amount of time required for a circuit breaker lockdown is two weeks, as mentioned by Horwath, but many argue more time is needed for the method to truly have an effect. 

The longer the duration, the more effective the method — but the greater the impact on the economy and society as a whole as well. 

So far, Toronto has implemented restrictions for periods of 28 days at a time, so it's possible a circuit breaker could be introduced for a similar length of time. 

What is the goal of a circuit breaker?

Essentially, the goal of a circuit breaker is to quickly reduce the spread of COVID-19 in order to give the healthcare system a chance to catch up.

Late last week, University of Ottawa epidemiologist Raywat Deonandan told CityNews a circuit breaker lockdown can be "a powerful tool" for jurisdictions trying to reduce pressure on hospitals, but it likely won't be successful if the goal is to get case numbers down to single digits in order to completely reopen the economy. 

That, unfortunately, cannot be done in such a short time frame. 

Where else has it been used?

The circuit breaker method has been used a number of times all over the world in jurisdictions trying to prevent a healthcare catastrophe, including Israel, Wales and New Zealand. 

The chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, Tom Sampson, has also been calling for a 28-day circuit breaker lockdown in Alberta as a result of skyrocketing case numbers. 

He's been warning that Alberta's second wave is an incoming "tsunami" that "may run over our health care system, our economy, and our mental health and wellness," and he says 14 days simply isn't long enough for the circuit breaker to have the intended effect.

How do we know if it was successful?

As is true for all measures implemented throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it's only possible to know the effects of new restrictions after they've been in effect for a while thanks to the incubation period — which can last up to 14 days. 

 This may mean that the effectiveness of the circuit breaker is not immediately apparent, but it does not mean it's not working. 

Will it really happen in Toronto?

At this point, we do not have a clear answer on whether Toronto is headed for a circuit breaker lockdown. However, speaking on CP24 Monday morning, Mayor John Tory said new COVID-19 restrictions are headed for the city in the coming days. 

Indoor dining and group fitness classes are already prohibited in Toronto at present, and a number of rules are in place for businesses that are allowed to operate.

And while the city can impose further restrictions on businesses, such as capacity limits in malls and retail stores, it would likely be up to the provincial government to come in and impose a strict lockdown — something Premier Doug Ford has repeatedly said he is willing to do if the situation so requires.

Lead photo by

Fareen Karim


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