Bishop Fabbro

Ontario’s lockdown: ‘It does require sacrifices’

By 
  • December 23, 2020

There’s no question the strain of the pandemic is hitting every area of Canadians’ lives as the year draws to a close.

With lockdowns spreading in reaction to the rising number of COVID-19 infections, schools, hospitals and churches are all trying to figure out ways to cope.

From the frontlines of the emergency room in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ont., Dr. Greg Rutledge reports that the strain is taking a toll among professionals. 

“I’ve seen it (strain) in the emergency department. I’ve seen it with the nursing colleagues who are going out to support the long-term care homes that are in crisis and outbreaks.... the people feel it,” Rutledge said.

His comments came just as Ontario announced a 28-day shutdown (14 days in northern portion) beginning Boxing Day, with Premier Doug Ford pointing to the rising tide of hospitalizations that threaten to overwhelm its acute care hospitals.

The shutdown will also be hard on Ontario Catholics given the success they have had in preventing transmission of COVID in churches, said Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario president Bishop Ron Fabbro.

“I don’t know of any case in Ontario where the virus has been passed on in one of our churches,” he said.

With churches limited to 10-person capacity, Sunday and even weekday public Masses have been suspended in lockdown areas with churches only open for private prayer and devotion. For Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins also approved a short Holy Communion service to allow parishes, if possible, to distribute the Eucharist to small groups.

“As we prepare for the birth of Jesus, we pray for all those who are sick, those who have died and the many front-line workers offering loving care to those most in need,” said Collins in a Dec. 17 letter to clergy and staff. 

Fabbro believes Catholics are prepared to play their part in controlling the rapid spread of the disease.

“It does require sacrifices and that really hurts,” he said. “But we do have to be concerned about one another. That’s part of our faith.”

For the province’s biggest Catholic hospital system, the shutdown is about having a fighting chance to keep treating patients — COVID and non-COVID.

“This level of strain on our health-care system is not sustainable,” Unity Health spokesperson Jennifer Stranges told The Catholic Register in an e-mail. Unity operates St. Michael’s Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Providence Healthcare in Toronto. “Without further restrictions to bring community transmission under control, we risk the health and wellbeing of hospital staff as well as scheduled care.”

The lockdown has implications for every part of life across the province of more than 14.5 million people. Kids will be out of school longer over the Christmas break, with elementary pupils back in class Jan. 11 and high school students exiled to remote learning until Jan. 25. While Torontonians will notice just a slight tightening of restrictions, in much of the rest of the province grocery stores at 25-per-cent capacity and pharmacies at 50-per-cent capacity, absolute prohibitions against dining either inside or on restaurant patios, curbside-pick-up-only at most stores will be a big adjustment.

The Catholic Health Association of Ontario has supported the OHA’s Dec. 17 call for a general shutdown. But the Catholic association is also pushing the government to take a more system-wide approach.

“We’ve been strongly advocating for an increase in community housing and support services to create system flow, to free up capacity in the acute-care sector,” said CHAO executive director Ron Noble. 

Hospital-based doctors also see the need for increased supportive housing and social supports, said Rutledge. After the hospital has done its job, patients still need to be cared for somewhere so that hospitals aren’t housing people who have nowhere to go.

“Having a safe place for them to go is a dramatically important part of the (health) system,” he said.

Catholic health care ethics certainly don’t end in the hospital parking lot, King’s University College principal David Malloy said. The former assistant dean of the Department of Kinesiology and Health Studies at the University of Regina, Malloy has published extensively on health-care systems and ethics.

“If you’re looking at this from a Catholic perspective, it’s very clear and obvious that one tenet of Catholicism is a commitment to serve the community. If you are serving the community, that means you’re protecting the community,” he said.

Any argument that a lockdown violates personal freedom when lives are at stake isn’t just un-Catholic, it’s “wacko,” said Malloy.

“It’s against my individual freedom to not wear a mask? Well, it’s against a pilot’s freedom to not have a couple of scotches before he gets in the pilot seat,” he said. “But nobody argues against that.”

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