The 5 Worst Political COVID Mistakes
This isn't a good time to be a politician in Canada. Last week an emotional Ontario Premier Doug Ford had to apologize for taking restrictions too far, and Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin cancelled the World Women's Hockey Championships in his province at the last minute.
In Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney has as many people angry at him for bringing in too many restrictions, as he does from those who think he hasn't been tough enough.
At the same time, it's pretty clear that many political leaders and health experts across Canada have screwed up badly over the last year, so I put together a list of my top 5 political COVID mistakes.
#5. The Restrictions Rollercoaster
Just after the pandemic was declared last year, politicians across Canada started announcing restrictions because of the public health emergency. I remember Prime Minister Trudeau urging Canadians to follow the rules, so we could get back to more of a normal life in the summer. At the time we didn’t know he must have meant the summer of 2022.
Most people followed his wishes and those of the provincial Premiers, but when we got to summer, we realized things weren’t a lot different and we would need a vaccine to get back to the lifestyles we used to have. Socially distancing wasn’t going to cut it.
We’ve seen an almost predictable cycle of restrictions, the easing of restrictions, new restrictions, the easing of those restrictions and so on. It’s now pretty clear something much stronger at the start of the pandemic, when more people were willing to pitch in and do their part, would have worked much better. We’ve never really had a lockdown in the strictest terms. Maybe really closing the borders back then would have helped too. More on the borders in a minute.
The Restrictions Rollercoaster has been a mess. If these double mutant variants render the current vaccines ineffective, we’re headed for a 4th wave later this year.
#4. The Long-Term Care Home Disaster
Hindsight is 20-20, but something that still angers me is the way authorities almost allowed the virus to sweep through seniors and long-term care facilities across Canada.
Health care experts knew very early in the pandemic that those who were at the greatest risk of dying were older people and those with severe pre-existing health conditions. Despite that, the provinces moved far too slowly and thousands of seniors, trapped in their own homes, were killed.
The Edmonton Journal reported on the weekend that three Edmonton nursing homes had outbreaks that lasted over six months.
Canadians then got into this strange game of trying to justify the first wave of COVID deaths, by saying most of the people getting killed were over 80 and they would have died soon anyway. What???
My father-in-law and mother-in-law are both in their 80’s. They still live in their own home and thankfully they’ve been vaccinated. My father-in-law is 85 and he still goes for a walk every day and rides his bike. He’s in better shape than many 60-year olds. Don’t tell me that he only has a short time to live and shame on anyone who used this as a way of trying to say the virus isn’t that serious for anyone who isn’t elderly.
Unfortunately, very little will change about seniors’ homes in Canada, because as a society we don’t value the lives of elderly people and neither does government.
#3. The Kids Are Not Alright
Almost forgotten in everything that has happened, is the decision of provincial governments last summer to reopen schools in the fall. That has led to eight months of teachers, educational assistants and school administrators doing the best they can with what they’ve been given. I know because I have a son who is a teacher and a wife who’s an educational assistant.
The people working in the schools have done an incredible job of keeping things on track in schools, with little help from their provincial government in Alberta.
I remember Premier Kenney justifying the decision to reopen schools last summer by saying children don’t seem to get the disease and they don’t get as ill. He left out the obvious fact that when kids were sent home from school last spring they stayed home and didn’t play with other kids as much because sports were cancelled too. Of course, COVID numbers among children would be low then. I hope the Premier has checked the latest numbers for COVID in schools. They’re frightening, and the end of the school year can’t come soon enough.
Check out these stats on variants from Aryn Toombs who has created the great website Charting Alberta Covid. Does anyone still believe kids can’t get the disease?
#2. Open Border Policy
One of the biggest misnomers in the media for the past year has been that the Canada-US border is closed. No it’s not. It never has been. It’s been closed to non-essential travel and only at border locations. Kind of.
Truckers and many others who have work to do, cross the border on a daily basis. People can fly to other many world destinations and fly here. Last Friday afternoon, planes were leaving and arriving at Toronto’s Pearson Airport from well over a dozen countries around the world.
Last week when Canada banned flights to and from India and Pakistan for a month, it came a day late and a dollar short. Prime Minister Trudeau has talked about Canada having “some of the strongest borders in the world” during the pandemic.
It's very hard to believe him, as Ontario snowbirds take limos across the border in Buffalo to avoid having to quarantine in a hotel.
#1. No Masking This Mistake
About three weeks into the pandemic, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam told Canadians there was no reason to wear a mask if they weren’t sick. In fact, she advised against mask wearing. I watched a YouTube video of her March 30, 2020 news conference and it bordered on humourous and dreadful.
Provincial medical health officers like Dr. Deena Hinshaw quickly sang off the same song sheet.
I know they’re not elected officials, but politicians went along with Tam’s advice. I can understand Tam wanting to ensure there were enough masks for health care workers, but talk about damaging your credibility, when just a few weeks later, she recommended mask wearing by everyone. Not long after that she “strongly recommended” it. Her provincial counterparts said much the same thing and not long after, municipalities across Canada brought in mask bylaws.
I wonder how many lives would have been saved last spring if more people would have worn a mask?
I’m not saying Canadians have been perfect at following public health rules – far from it. But, the people we elected to lead us during a time like this haven’t been very good either.
Images credit: Aryn Toombs, Charting Alberta Covid
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Tam - like Hinshaw, she is a shill for the politicians - none of us knew that they only recommend and those recs are private to the minister. It is the same in Alberta - Dr Hinshaw was blaming the victims at the slaughterhouses after 30 cases and Kenney didn't do anything until 4 people died and there were 1400 cases. No public health figure in Canada was ignorant of what was happening in China in December 2019. The error was EVERY country west of New Zealand waited until covid was on their turf and did nothing to gear up for a pandemic - and that includes Europe. This is political exceptionalism not the fault of the medical mouthpieces. These politicians still are not serious in fighting covid - they think you can fight a biological war and have your beer and hospitality too. Unfortunately, this only prolongs the misery for both citizens and business.
Testing - covid sensing dogs have a record of 95% - for a non-symptomatic covid rate of 40%-60% of infected - where was the talk of testing? Provincial cell-phone trackers? privacy? where were the laws to protect health when privacy got in the way. Idiocy. Totally mishandled.
Aerosols - when you have plenty of pointers to ventilation and tight N95/KN95 masks being required - where was the province?
Biggest failure - Conservative pols fighting the Feds and old medicare wars - they don't think healthcare is a govt role and thousands are dead because of it. The only protected LTC people are the owners - outrageous!
How about testing? We never properly boosted COVID testing capacity so that people who wanted to get a test without symptoms could get one. And it took far too long to get COVID rapid tests and at-home tests approved in Canada, compared to other countries. Provinces denigrated them and ensured the rules around their use were unmanageable and so we still haven't adequately rolled them out in workplaces and other settings where they could stop the outbreaks before they occur -- including in long term care homes, where 1,600 residents died in Ontario alone in the months AFTER Doug Ford called them a "game changer" but delayed reacting.
Great point. I agree. Rapid testing and testing close to where the action is have been failures so far. Like I said, a list of the biggest mistakes by government could be a long one.