Sunday, April 12, 2020

Did Canada Drop the Ball on Covid-19?

The obvious answer is "yes," the federal government's response to the Covid-19 pandemic was a litany of quarter- or half-measures, missed opportunities that  allowed the virus to win the early rounds. Time and again "the economy" defeated the public interest.

A critical care physician from Edmonton, Dr. Raiyan Chowdhury, told CBC that Canada dropped the ball.
Chowdhury said the government took too long to realize how significant the issue was and took too long to call out the severity of the problem. 
"I always feel like we're behind the curve," he said in an interview. 
Chowdhury concedes that hindsight is 20-20 and it's easier to see mistakes in retrospect, but he points to a list of other countries — South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and New Zealand — that have fared relatively well to show that other governments, with the same evidence in hand, were quicker to react and did so more decisively.
"Like everything when it comes to this pandemic, it's the people and leaders who moved early that made the difference," Chowdhury said. 
In January, Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said there would be cases of COVID-19, but "it's going to be rare." 
All through January and well into February, Health Minister Patty Hajdu and other federal ministers reassured Canadians that the risk of getting the coronavirus in Canada was low, even after the first few cases popped up in the country. 
Considering how fast the virus was spreading throughout China and into Europe, that surprised many in the medical and scientific community who were watching. 
"How fast can an epidemic spread? The answer used to be as fast as the fastest horse can run or the fastest boat can sail," Dr. Marcus Powlowski, a physician and Liberal MP who sits on the parliamentary health committee, said in an interview. "Now diseases spread as fast as the fastest plane can travel. That hasn't been emphasized enough."
The government balked at closing our borders.
"The long-term implications of shutting down borders is they're not very effective at controlling disease. In fact, they're not very effective at all," Hajdu said on Feb.17.

Multiple studies have shown that borders don't stop viruses, but stricter controls can slow them down by days or even weeks. Since the goal was delaying the virus and buying time, Chowdhury said not restricting entry into Canada early on was one of the government's biggest missed opportunities. 
A month after Hajdu's statement, Ottawa closed the border to all foreign nationals and to non-essential travel from the U.S. Chowdhury said that was weeks too late.
A toothless effort to isolate/quarantine arrivals.
"People coming from high-risk regions need to be quarantined," said Dr. Ashish Jha, a professor of global health at Harvard University and the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. 
But it took until March 25 —14 days after the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic — for the government to do that, invoking the Quarantine Act, making it mandatory under the threat of fines up to $750,000 and even jail time.
Tam's bad calls.
"Is it possible that an asymptomatic person could transmit the virus? Even if it is possible, we believe it is a rare event," Tam said at the parliamentary health committee at the end of January. 
The first report of asymptomatic transmission — out of Germany — was at the end of January. Yet it wasn't until the end of March, that Tam acknowledged the growing body of evidence. 
Even so, it didn't immediately change Tam's view on things like whether the general public should wear masks to slow the spread of the virus. Even at the end of March, she was insisting that it was not beneficial for an asymptomatic person to wear a mask. 
Jha, of Harvard, said that was a misstep. 
"We have known for at least a good month to six weeks that asymptomatic transmission is real and it happens," he said. "Even when you're just breathing or talking, you can be spreading the virus through droplets and that is what makes the case for masks much more compelling." 
In early April, Tam said non-medical masks can help lower the risk of spreading the disease to others even if you don't feel ill.
Missed opportunities, some that come with a terminal price.
Despite assurances in January that there was a healthy federal stockpile of equipment that could be used as a backup to any shortfalls by the provinces, Canada is now scrambling to produce millions of items as it competes in the global race for much-needed supplies. 
Provinces are still struggling to test people for the virus in larger numbers and to obtain faster results. They are a long way off from being able to test asymptomatic people, and then isolate those who test positive, something Jha said will be key to easing restrictions and getting back to normal. 
Of course, Canada is not alone in having missed opportunities. 
"The world essentially diverged into two main strategies," said Jha, explaining that one strategy — the more successful one — was to do early and aggressive testing and isolation. 
"Almost none of the Western democracies did that. They have really just all kind of bungled their way through this."
It's become standard fare for politicians, taken by surprise by events, to absolve themselves by saying that "no one saw this coming," the adult version of "the dog ate my homework." Harper did it when Canada got rolled by the Great Recession of 2007-2008. Harper did it again when Calgary suffered successive "once in a century" floods just 8 years apart.

Justin Trudeau failed Canada and it's small comfort to realize we probably would have been worse off if Scheer's Tories were in power. And Trudeau actually looks pretty good compared to America's unhinged president. That, however, misses the point.

We need to recalibrate our priorities. We can't allow "the economy" to defeat the public interest. We must accept that it's not enough to declare an emergency and then revert to business as usual. You cannot declare a climate emergency one day and, less than 24 hours later, greenlight a massive new bitumen pipeline.   When an emergency looms, that is your priority. Everything else is secondary.

To quote Churchill, "Sometimes it is not enough that we do our best. Sometimes we must do what is required." Right now we need leaders who understand that.


Trailblazer said...

The government balked at closing our borders.

I still believe that BC premier John Horgan twisted Trudeau's arms to close the US border.
The cutting edge of the import of the virus has been through the pacific north west.

Justin Trudeau failed Canada and it's small comfort to realize we probably would have been worse off if Scheer's Tories were in power.

Actually, I think we would have been well and truly screwed with Scheer at the helm.
Don't like Trudeau, never have , but he is trying to make amends for his mistakes.

The really right wing are back peddling to save their 'souls'.
Kenny is sending a token handful of face masks to BC to appease his pipeline ambitions( fuck, he never stops)
Ford pretends he is concerned with health when he has called for reduction of funding to healthcare; the list goes on.

Caught with their pants down politicians of all stripes are having problems with COVID19.

They all have one thing in common in that they put the economy in whatever terms they see it ; first.

There are still few calls for change.

The battle at 'we are #1' the US and it's affiliates! is all about going back to the status quo.

That will be the battle of the future?


Toby said...

"Did Canada Drop the Ball on Covid-19?"

Yes. One would think that after SARS our managerial classes would have ensured that we would have resources and trained personnel awaiting. It's not that they haven't been warned; there are experts in the field and they have spoken up. The failures with the pandemic are similar to the failure to make the changes required by climate change; again, we have been warned.

the salamander said...

.. the extreme levels of partisan 'virtue signalling' disgust me. Hell.. any virtue signalling & flag hugging faux patriotism. Blended in are extreme levels of 'contraryism' .. One of the main pillars of 'conservatism' (which is actually just one of the 'pret a porter' partisan business suits & de rigeur camouflage of holier than thou neoliberal egotists) These fuckwit political posture constantly.. instead of actually performing their elected or unelected jobs as OUR Public Servants ! Meanwhile they're busy playing partisan pattycake with each other.. and photo op'ing their pasty pale asses off. They must haul out their hefty political playbooks daily.. and make sure they snivelled out the right talking point, remembered what religious holiday it is, dressed casual for their daily 5 minutes of actual 'work' .. and then jump on Twitter and Facebook.. to 'read the polls'.. and then via secret burner cel phones, stir that into the virtue & value porridge they barf up and serve the faithful MediaWankers to water cannon the population with..

Our public servant wanks blather now about 'Performance Based' funding in Education.. and the decision makers such as Kenney's loutlings or Doug Ford's coven.. will be the Judges of such ? Holy Hell ! Let me point to who actually needs a strict diet of 'Performance Based' natural consequences.. That's right baby.. Great Idea.. so let's test it on Elected and Unelected Public Servants who belong to Political Parties

What has Andrew Scheer done for Canadians lately.. or if ever ? Scott Brison getting a taxpayer Pension ? Alykan Velshi .. what his latest cronyism job.. ? Pierre Poilievre or Ms Remple-Garner.. Rona ? Gerald Butts ? Matt Wolf ? Christy Clark (that eminent 'Liberal'..) or Rich Coleman ? Anyone check what trough he's wallowing in lately ? Ken Boessenkool? Tony Clement ? James Moore ? John Baird ?

Monday Monday .. can't trust that day.. (Mommas & the Poppas) .. so figured I'd come out.. with my words blazing..

Toby said...

"COVID-19 a 'failure of early warning' says intelligence expert"

A pandemic was on the list of security threats and those in charge ignored Covid-19.

The Disaffected Lib said...

My sense of it is that the federal and most provincial governments were simply overwhelmed, deer caught in the headlights. That's a bad spot to be in - for everybody - if your leaders aren't really strong leaders. I think they were afraid of making the bold calls the pandemic required. Trudeau has many times shown a tendency to hesitate. He's unsure of himself and, yes, his priority was and probably remains the economy.

My understanding is also that it was Horgan who twisted the PM's arm to shut the borders. When the virus hit Canada I waited week on week for the federal government to invoke the Emergencies Act. Nothing. Then JT decided to canvass the premiers as though he needed their vote of approval, which he did not get. The Emergencies Act is not a piece of consensus legislation, anything but.

I doubt anyone will bother asking but why, during their "bromance" did Justin not get a copy of Obama's pandemic playbook? We could have used the American approach to craft something along the same lines for the federal and provincial governments.

Thanks for the link, Toby. Yes, we've known since 2004 that pandemics were one of the major threat scenarios in the former Liberal government's security review. You identify the threat but then there's no essential follow-up.
Does that sound familiar when a government declares a climate breakdown state of emergency one day and greenlights a massive new bitumen pipeline the very next?