Daily on TV, radio and social media platforms, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has provided coronavirus updates, repeating that “our government” acts only on the best advice of medical and other experts. Advice hardly anchored in granite-like certitude, it would appear.
Just this week, Canadians have been officially urged to wear face coverings if presented with situations challenging the demanded two metres of physical distancing in public.
Six weeks ago, on March 31, a Canadian Press story reported just as officially, “Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer maintained in a press conference that while face masks can cut down on the spread of coronavirus when worn by someone already infected, it does little for healthy individuals.”
Messaging in the U.S. has been just as inconsistent. On March 12, Time reported that days earlier, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams tweeted “seriously people – STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing the general public from catching #coronavirus.”
Sure, the views expressed by the chief public health officers of Canada and the United States evolved over several weeks. However, the statements were hardly open-ended and took no notice of Asian centres like Hong Kong and Taiwan, where wearing face masks was societally expected and medically supported.
In the report, Time stated that Dr. David Hui, a respiratory medicine expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who extensively studied SARS in 2002-03, made the case early that “common sense” dictates wearing a mask would protect against infectious diseases like COVID-19.
There was also much early public questioning concerning international arrivals at Canadian airports.
Should incoming flights be significantly reduced or even stopped entirely in the interest of mitigating the risk of the arrival of COVID-19 in Canada?
Repeatedly, Trudeau and public health officials declared that such a decision would, in fact, not protect Canadians from the virus. Health Minister Patty Hajdu told reporters in early March that “viruses don’t know borders.”
Yet by March 16, all but four Canadian airports were closed to international flights. But not quite, it seems.
Direct screening for COVID-19 travellers, while a constant demand now, was just weeks ago not deemed essential. Travellers arriving in Canada from international destinations repeatedly shared on air they had experienced little official interest and few questions about the state of their health from CBSA agents.
An alarming mid-March call from listener Donna, an Ontario resident, underscored the stories we’d heard. Arriving at Toronto’s Pearson airport following a Cuba vacation where she had already experienced a high fever and COVID-19-like symptoms, Donna shared that even though her symptoms remained clearly present upon arrival at Pearson, she was nevertheless — almost casually — sent on her way home.
Donna said subsequent calls to Ontario public health authorities, an area hospital and her family doctor’s office left her bewildered and without any care or testing of any kind.
Meanwhile, though, elective surgeries were being cancelled in huge numbers. Just last week, a published and peer-reviewed finding by the British Journal of Surgery estimated that worldwide, as many as 28 million surgeries may be affected.
Canadian Medical Association president Dr. Sandy Buchman addressed this issue on air Saturday. Dr. Buchman explained how postponing an elective cardiac surgery can then lead to an emergency developing in a matter of two to three weeks.
The uneven approach to national health during the pandemic is addressed in an open letter to Prime Minister Trudeau from the Macdonald Laurier Institute. Titled “Beyond Lockdown” and signed by prominent experts, the letter states, “illnesses and conditions not related to COVID-19 have gone untreated or undiagnosed, including killers such as cancer and heart disease.”
The letter continues: “It is the responsibility of our leaders to defend both the health and prosperity of Canadians. The path forward does not lie in politicians deferring to experts. As two experts from the London School of Economics observed recently, ‘It is dangerous when politicians ignore expert advice. But it is just as dangerous when politicians outsource their judgment to experts, especially if the margin of error is huge and the advice is contested.'”
If a second wave of pandemic will indeed befall Canada as experts are cautioning, will we have learned lessons of the first wave? Have decisions taken by political leaders so far been sound, pragmatic and forward-thinking?
This nation cannot reasonably be expected to absorb another period like March and April when three million Canadians lost their jobs, while a month later almost eight million of us were reaching for emergency replacement monies from Ottawa. Is another $200 billion, or more, available to be borrowed should an extension of the massively expensive monetary support be required in four or five months?
What is our national debt? Prior to the pandemic it was approaching $700 billion. How much red ink is flowing provincially and municipally?
What other troubling scenarios might a second-wave of COVID-19 bring for Canadians? Can we again severely limit health-care access and possibly risk further erosion of mental health stability for many required to sequester? Will our food and prescription medication supply chains prove resilient? Will PPE become readily available? Will rents be paid? What might happen to education?
Maintaining public trust in government action is paramount.
At present, the visual of Canada being governed appears restricted to daily television appearances by Justin Trudeau. Our federal and provincial legislators don’t consider their daily and on-the-job presence as essential as, say, the staffing of liquor outlets.
Meanwhile, in provinces across the nation families who shared living space were warned and fined many hundreds of dollars for enjoying some outdoor time as a unit. In mid-April an Oakville, Ont., father rollerblading with his sons in a community centre parking lot was issued an $880 fine by a bylaw enforcement officer.
Remember that throwaway question we’d ask maybe dozens of times daily during better times? You know, “how are you?”
Well, how are you and how are we?
Roy Green is the host of the Roy Green Show on the Global News Radio network.