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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Call what the Ford government did whatever you want, but it is not a lockdown

The Ford government is closing down the retail outlets and workplaces that are the least responsible for the second wave. It is a big business wet dream.

“The situation is extremely serious and further action is required to avoid the worst case scenario. We cannot put in-class learning at risk, we can’t risk widespread outbreaks in our long-term care homes, we cannot risk overwhelming our hospitals. To protect our most vulnerable and protect what matters most we have to get the community spread under control. - Doug Ford announcing the "lockdown", November 20, 2020

After considerable prevarication, delay, hand-wringing and a series of threats at press conferences, today, November 20, Doug Ford announced what is being widely described as a "lockdown" for Toronto and Peel Region due to soaring coronavirus cases.

This version of a lockdown will see the "closure of gyms, recreation facilities and personal care services while also limiting all non-essential retail stores to curbside pickup only." Meanwhile schools will remain open as will "supermarkets, hardware stores, department stores, convenience stores, pharmacies and beer and liquor stores, all of which will now face a 50 per cent capacity limit."

The other thing that will remain open are countless large workplaces in Peel Region and Toronto.

Call this whatever you want, but it is not a lockdown. It is also difficult to see how it will prove effective.

The Ford government is closing down the retail outlets and workplaces that are the least responsible for the second wave. It is a big business wet dream and will greatly benefit large and online retailers at the expense of smaller ones.

As I noted on November 19 in the piece Class and the pandemic in Ontario, from "overcrowded buses, to open schools and daycares, to a lack of serious support for workers who are sick, to the understating of the extent and seriousness of workplace outbreaks, the Ford government's policies amount to covid class warfare." Nothing has changed now and this is because we know that the new outbreaks are not driven by small retailers and hair salons but by large workplaces.

As I quoted before from the Globe and Mail:

Peel, which includes the cities of Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon, is one of the country’s largest warehouse and distribution hubs, and businesses in the region employ many immigrants and members of multigenerational households. Widespread outbreaks in manufacturing and food processing have led to rapid household and community spread as public officials grapple with how to protect workers.
“We’re seeing transmission in industrial settings and essential workplaces, and there were a number of outbreaks in food processing and transportation and logistics,” said Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown. “While many people are sitting in the comfort of their homes and going to grocery stores, it’s an Amazon worker, a trucker in Brampton, or someone in a food processing plant that made sure they had their food.”
The region has the highest cumulative rate of COVID-19 cases in Ontario, at 1,200 cases per 100,000 people. The area has seen 116 total workplace outbreaks, more than the number that have occurred in long-term care home and school outbreaks combined. Manufacturing and industrial facilities account for 34 per cent of the workplace outbreaks, while retail and food processing make up 14 per cent and 10 per cent respectively, according to data from Peel Region.

None of these manufacturing and industrial facilities are closing. Large retailers are remaining open. Food processing plants are too, and so are schools.

While Amazon will be happy, no one else should be. Long lines at big retailers, buses still overcrowded with working people going to jobs at large facilities, schools open to ensure that parents can be at work -- despite the fact that new cases of Covid among children 0-19 have grown by 900% since schools reopened -- all seem certain to mean that this "lockdown" will fail on its own terms.

It has never been more clear how our society and economy as structured now, after decades of relentless neo-liberal assault, are simply incapable of adapting to circumstances that require a sustained and collective approach instead of stopgap half-measures grasped at in desperation by capitalist politicians on what amounts to a sinking ship.



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