Coronavirus: Ontario’s ‘watered-down’ list of essential workplaces mostly symbolic, expert says

On Monday, Ontario’s government released its list of “essential workplaces” that contained 74 general types of businesses that can stay open during the coronavirus pandemic.

The list includes businesses in the health-care, banking and telecommunications sectors, food service industry, construction, dry cleaning, office supplies and more.

“It seems to go on forever,” said Dan Henstra, an expert in emergency preparedness at the University of Waterloo, referring to the list.

Henstra said that, in an emergency, it’s absolutely critical for the government to keep businesses essential to the basics of life open and running with as few disruptions as possible. This means maintaining supply chains and ensuring the manufacturing of goods — including the production of food — can continue uninterrupted.

But, he adds, there’s no “formalized playbook” for deciding what is and isn’t essential. He also says governments are “terrible at picking winners and losers,” especially when deciding what businesses can remain open.

“Certainly, governments don’t like to alienate their support base,” he said. “But this (list) covers almost everything.”

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