This week, the Government of Ontario once again activated the “emergency brake” system within its COVID-19 reopening framework.
The system is a new tool within the framework that was introduced on February 12 as Stay at Home orders began to lift across the province. Officials have said it was created in response to the emerging virus variants.
It has been activated three times within the last two weeks: in the Thunder Bay District Health Unit and Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit on February 26, and in the Public Health Sudbury and Districts region on March 11.
Despite its increasingly frequent use, confusion remains over what exactly the emergency brake system is, and how and when it can be implemented.
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There are five different colour-coded zones within Ontario’s reopening framework: Green-Prevent, Yellow-Protect, Orange-Restrict, Red-Control, and Grey-Lockdown.
Each level comes with increasingly-strict public health measures, with Green being the most lenient, and, as the name suggests, Grey being a full lockdown.
Normally, when a region is moved to a zone level within the framework, it remains there for two weeks before public health indicators are reassessed.
Depending on how indicators are trending, a region may be moved up or down a level, or stay in its current position for another two weeks.
However, the emergency brake system allows Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, in consultation with a local medical officer of health, to advise that a region be immediately moved into the Grey-Lockdown zone.
The instant move into a lockdown is intended to stop the spread of COVID-19, guard against virus variants, and protect a region’s public health and health system capacity.
It can be activated regardless of what level of the framework a region is in, from Green-Prevent to Red-Control.
“Implementing an emergency brake to immediately interrupt transmission of COVID-19 is a key component of our government’s plan to safely and gradually return public health regions to the Framework,” Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a release.
On March 11, the chief medical officer of health said it’s possible that the province could move back into another State of Emergency, as cases gradually begin to rise in most regions.
To date, Ontario has seen 314,891 COVID-19 cases and 7,127 virus-related deaths.