What Would an “Intelligent Lockdown” Look Like in Canada?

Op-ed featured exclusively on our website.

Because COVID-19 is far less dangerous to the young than it is to the elderly or immune-comprised,[1] and because generalized lockdowns are economically devastating, many countries have implemented targeted policies instead.

These policies either specifically focus on senior centres, which have made up the overwhelming number of COVID-19 deaths, or they target activities that are particularly high-risk. The most important of these seem to be indoor public activities including nightclubs, sports events, and entertainment venues where person-to-person contact with many other people is unavoidable.

Aside from these rather obvious measures, and given new information that asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 seems to be “very rare,”[2] especially outdoors,[3] the cost-benefit to locking down particular activities may very quickly decline.

Policies Targeted to Senior Centres

  • Protective gear for workers at senior homes[4]
  • Do not send infected patients back to senior homes[5]
  • Do not rotate senior home staff[6]
  • Consider asking senior home staff to live on-site for duration of epidemic[7]

Countries Implementing Limited lockdowns

The countries that implemented measured responses to COVID-19 generally focused on activities where either large numbers of people congregate in close proximity, or where the activity includes person-to-person contact, such as gyms and swimming pools.

The activities most often targeted were public events, nightclubs, and bars. Restaurants remained open, but were generally advised to enact physical distancing, either through spatial separation or with a physical partition.

Other businesses that make up the vast majority of jobs, such as office work, factories, or outdoor work, were typically not restricted since they neither involved large groups in close proximity nor intimate person-to-person contact.


  • The Netherlands’ “intelligent lockdown” merely encouraged people to stay home and maintain a 5-foot distance, and only closed restaurants, bars, schools, and museums. Beaches remained open, but parking lots were closed to limit crowds.[8]


  • Bars and restaurants remained open, but were required to space tables 2 metres apart, and violators were shut down.[9]


  • Restaurants remained open, but the government issued voluntary guidelines for physical distancing, including a 1.5-metre distance between tables. In fact, some businesses ignored these guidelines and instead installed partitions between tables, relying on customers to decide whether they feel safe in the business. Meanwhile, many businesses provided free hand sanitizer or temperature checks.[10]


  • While the central government asked businesses to close, there was no requirement, so some crowded businesses shut but many remained open. Tokyo had the most aggressive policy, targeting bars, internet cafes, and swimming pools, but restaurants, pubs, and bars were merely asked to close by 7pm or 8pm.[11]

Hong Kong

  • Most businesses remained open, but restaurants were required to maintain 5 feet of distance between tables. The only closed businesses were bars, karaoke lounges, cinemas, and gyms.[12]


  1. Scott W. Atlas, “Five Key Facts That Argue Against Continuing the Lockdown,” Montreal Economic Institute, May 5, 2020.
  2. James Rogers, “Coronavirus: Asymptomatic spread ‘appears to be rare,’ WHO official says,” Fox News, June 8, 2020.
  3. Hiroshi Nishiura et al., Closed environments facilitate secondary transmission of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19),” medRxiv, April 16, 2020.
  4. Chris McGreal, “‘We’re living in fear’: why US nursing homes became incubators for the coronavirus,” The Guardian, April 15, 2020.
  5. Robert Booth, “MPs hear why Hong Kong had no Covid-19 care home deaths,” The Guardian, May 19, 2020.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Spencer Van Dyke, “‘It’s like a big family’: At Manoir Stanstead seniors’ home, staff have moved in to keep COVID-19 out,” CBC News, April 9, 2020.
  8. Charlotte van Ouwerkerk, “Dutch gamble on ‘intelligent lockdown’ to beat coronavirus,” CTV News, April 30, 2020.
  9. Kelly McLaughlin, “Sweden is shutting down bars and restaurants where people defied social distancing guidelines,” Business Insider, April 27, 2020; Jenny Anderson, “Sweden’s very different approach to Covid-19,” Quartz, April 27, 2020.
  10. Flor Wang and Chiang Ming-yen, “Taiwan restaurants preparing to adopt social distancing guidelines,” Focus Taiwan, April 1st, 2020.
  11. The Japan Times, “For better or worse, Japan’s COVID-19 success may be the result of peer pressure,” June 7, 2020; The Asahi Shimbun, “Tokyo names businesses to shut under state of emergency,” April 20, 2020.
  12. Matthew Keegan, “How Hong Kong Flattened the Curve Without Total Lockdown,” U.S News & World Report, April 22, 2020.
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