Issues in the news
When the federal government suddenly pulled the plug on all activity in Canada the whole country was in too much shock to do anything but comply. It never occurred to most of us that the action was anything but wise considering that governments are privy to so much more information than the rest of us.
When it happened, I was in Ottawa, touching elbows and heels in a joking manner with others at a Commonwealth Association cocktail party. I left to go back to my hotel and as I was getting ready to go to sleep, the television advised that Trump had just shut down his airports to travel. Panicked, I called my son-in-law in Toronto and told him that we had better get my granddaughter out of Vietnam where she was vacationing with her boyfriend. I had, myself, just returned from that country where a delegation of former parliamentarians had spent the better part of three weeks.
The next morning, I headed to the airport only to find the Maple Leaf Lounge filled with MPs heading for home. Since this usually only happens on Fridays, I was surprised and asked what was going on. That was when I learned that the House had been shut down.
This was followed by a flurry of lockdown mandates that only increased as we began to learn of deaths in seniors’ care homes. Suddenly, the whole world turned inward. By Christmas the world went silent. Schools were closed. Restaurants were shut down. Shopping was banned for all but essential purchases. Masks were mandated. Even hospitals were essentially closed as “elective” surgeries were cancelled and emergency wards emptied out. Some provinces were stricter than others. In Ontario, many stores would only allow one person in at a time and some students were arrested for sitting on a park bench. In Kingston, a couple was fined and caught in a churchyard looking for clues while playing Pokémon in their car.
In Winnipeg, people were banned from going to church – even if they stayed in their cars and heard the sermons on loudspeakers. The drive through at the Red River Ex Christmas Lights show was banned, even though people were protected from one another surrounded by metal and glass (this was rescinded later). It was not unheard of to see drivers all alone in their vehicles wearing masks and masks were mandatory in all public places. Asthmatics were told it would not hurt them, (Oh, yeah?) and to shut up and put up in the interests of others.
All this began with a report from Italy that their hospitals were overloaded with COVID-19 cases and a prediction of the worst kind to follow. It created a kind of wildfire. Ironically, the remedy was suggested by the action of the Chinese, whom everyone was blaming for letting the virus out, yet whose approach to control – typical of a totalitarian state – was to lock everyone down. This was difficult enough to do there, where the state makes all the rules. Here in the west, it is hard to believe how easily and quickly the masses were brought under control with a few threats and exaggerations.
Was the right approach taken?
By the second week of the lockdown, I began to question the logic. Would it not be better, I suggested in a social media tweet, to protect the vulnerable and try to maintain some sort of normalcy for the rest of the world? I was almost lynched verbally for my foolishness. However, a bit of homework revealed that this approach was, indeed, the very approach that a task force, charged with planning reaction to the next pandemic after SARS, had recommended.
The government threw all their work away along with a bunch of what they called PPE (personal protective equipment because it was “stale”) and the country ground to a halt.
All politicians fell into step with Trudeau and by the time they woke up, if indeed they did, it was too late. Many illogical decisions were made. While to all effects and purposes the country was shut down, most of the working population had to go out to work every day: nurses, caregivers and grocery clerks, maintenance people, electricians, and plumbers, truck drivers and bus drivers, all the folks who work with their hands … The list of those who had to work outside was much longer than that of those mandated to stay home. Yet this was believed to protect the population and I guess it worked for the elite office workers and some professionals.
Little kids and developing teens were shut in at home to study on computers as teachers eventually opted out. Graduations were cancelled. There were no school dances. Elderly people in homes were completely isolated and many died, infection brought into the homes by their caregivers. Think about it: the armed forces were called in to help care for them!
There was much, much more but when you think back it all seems like a nightmare, like some dystopian dream we all had together. It was made worse by a media that became the voice of doom, endlessly reciting the dangers of the pandemic, stirring up fear and hatred for our fellows who did not follow the rules. Dr. Tam droned on with a narrative of fear, backed up by carefully chosen “experts” who merely parroted the mantra of the day. Yet, research into what the World Health Organization had to say and even Health Canada often did not back up the media and Tam driven claims.
This was all bad enough, but the fallout was the most pernicious. Thousands of seniors died alone, many of natural causes brought on by loneliness, hopelessness, and neglect. Kids lost their ability to socialize, and teens became depressed and confused. Parents were stressed to the breaking point, some from being home with the whole family in a crowded space all day, every day, with no escape, and others who had to go out to work, with worry about catching what they were told would be their death sentence and passing it on to the kids.
Businesses were hard hit. Some struggled through on a much-reduced income. Many had to let people go. Some closed all together. And many are suffering still. It will take a decade for the economy to normalize. Even our democracy was damaged with the introduction of absentee attendance through Zoom. You can read the report on how the lockdowns and other measures affected our population. https://www.cpha.ca/review-canadas-initial-response-covid-19-pandemic
What we might have done
If the original recommendations had been followed, vulnerable populations such as those in group homes, the elderly, those with compromised immune systems and people living in crowded quarters, would have been the focus of protection. Social distancing and personal protection methods might have been encouraged including personal handwashing, and sanitization of frequently touched surfaces, voluntary (protect yourself) masking in public places, and recommended social distancing. And perhaps more work would have been done on the efficacy of masks.
Intrusion into personal spaces and freedoms will not be necessary or desirable. People are not stupid. They will do what they must to protect themselves and they do not need governments telling them how to conduct their lives.
The public health systems would also have focused on the recommendations to find prophylactics (not just flawed masks) to help prevent the disease. We still don’t know if Vitamin D was useful (although many who died were discovered to have Vitamin D deficiencies) or if we should have been eating something or taking something to reduce our chances of getting sick. We would have learned who was the most likely to get the disease and who was most likely to succumb. Currently it is accepted that obesity was a serious vulnerability, a fact backed up by several studies. Should we not be educating folks and doctors about the dangers?
Secondly, there would have been an earlier focus on treatment, instead of outright rejection of every idea that came along and relying solely on vaccinations that could only reduce the impact but not stop the disease. Currently in Manitoba, health care is employing oral antivirals (Paxlovid), Remdesivir and Evusheld to reduce symptoms if taken within the first five days of infection. Why wasn’t this available earlier?
No freedom to discuss
But the biggest challenge of all was the refusal to allow any discussion about treatments or the mandates. People were so coerced into believing what the health officers were saying as underlined by scared politicians (and while these officials may have had a health background, they were not experts in all related fields), that they heard nothing but their fears pounding in their ears.
This was brought home to me when, one fine spring morning in 2021, I happened to hear some children playing in their yard across the street. I mentioned how delightful it was to hear kids playing and I was immediately pounced on for suggesting that playing outside was a healthy thing to do. My adult grandson texted me advising that I should be careful about saying things such as this.
Alas, all this suppression resulted in the truckers’ convoy of February 2022, and I will probably be verbally lynched again for saying that I considered these brave men and women to be within their rights. Yes, the protest went on too long. Yes, along the way they picked up some bad baggage who collected around the convoy like ticks on a deer. Yes, they were a great nuisance to the good and well satisfied people of Ottawa. And yes, it was a stupid idea to barricade the borders. And yes, in the end they needed to be shut down – although the subsequent arrests and persecution, the implementation of the Emergencies Act and the seizure of personal bank accounts and property went too far.
But in a democratic nation, overreach by governments breeds reaction and that is perfectly reasonable. Protesting is a hallmark of our freedom.
So now it is time for reflection, time to say what we would do, must do, the next time this happens because it will happen again. Let us take lessons from our mistakes, our excesses, and our lack of rational thought to guide our nation.
And maybe, just maybe, we can spare the next generation.