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Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Rethinking our response to this (and any future) pandemic

Let me make clear right from the start that I am not an anti-masker. I do question the efficiency of mask-wearing, but not because I subscribe to the theory that masks are “too porous” to filter a virus as small as the COVID19 virus, or because I detect a conspiracy to take away our rights and impose one-world government. I question the efficiency of mask-wearing because making it compulsory has done little to slow the spread of the virus, in contrast to the success we had in the spring, when masks were voluntary. So I question the usefulness of making mask wearing mandatory, given the evidence. 
That said, I still wear a mask for two reasons. One, I have been asked to do so by my government, and I happen to believe that lawful authority should be obeyed in a free and democratic country such as ours. 

The second reason I wear one is that its purpose is not to filter the virus, but to filter the water vapour that carries the virus, and in that regard I can see some benefit in wearing a mask notwithstanding my views on their efficacy. 

What does not make sense on any level is the latest round of restrictions by the Ford government in Ontario. 

Someone once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, in the same circumstances, expecting a different result. This may not be an accurate description of insanity from a clinical perspective, but it does give us a reasonable standard against which we can judge our actions and behaviours as well as the actions and behaviours of those who are around us. And it is in this context that this latest lockdown order makes no sense. 

In the first place, lockdowns have failed to produce the hoped-for results in reducing the rates of infection in those jurisdictions where they have been imposed. How extending them to regions where the infection rate is under control – as te Ford government did on Boxing Day – will help those problematic jurisdictions is simply beyond my understanding. When asked about this, the Premier suggested that the goal was to prevent “region hopping” 

Region hopping? 

If this were a legitimate problem it would already be evident in higher infection rates in places such as Ottawa, which literally borders on the City of Gatineau in Quebec where a lockdown had been in effect for weeks. Quebec residents were not flocking to Ottawa to do their Christmas shopping, or to have a meal in a restaurant, even with the lower taxes. If they were, it didn’t resulted in an uptick in infections. 

Did anybody bring this fact to the attention of Premier Ford and his advisors? Where are our local members of the government? Where is Lisa MacLeod, who is a member of the Ontario Cabinet after all, and the minister responsible for Ottawa and eastern Ontario? 

A second problem with the pre-Christmas order was that it came into effect several days after its promulgation. Boxing Day to be exact. But if the situation was so dire that it required the entire province to be locked down, what possible justification could there be for such a delay? Lives are at risk! We should do it now, before the infection spreads further! 

The answer, it seems, was that delaying its coming into force the gave people a chance to do whatever shopping and other activities they had to take care of in preparation for Christmas, before the order went into effect. But if the reason for imposing more restrictions was to prevent people from congregating and spreading the virus, what sense was there in creating conditions where the public was encouraged to gather in larger numbers and concentrations that they normally would in anticipation of those restrictions? 

These questions aren’t based on ideology – they’re reasonable questions based on simple observation and common sense. 

These and similar government responses to the pandemic don't just lack common sense though, they're actually dangerous. 

Remember what I said about obeying lawful authority in a free and democratic society? That only works if people respect that authority and have faith in democratic safeguards and procedures that control it. When that respect and trust disappears, the will of the people to freely submit themselves to that authority also disappears. And when that happens, the only tool left for government to induce compliance with the law is coercion. 

And that is precisely what we are beginning to see more and more of. 

How else do you describe the actions of law enforcement officers descending on, and breaking up, church services being held in parking lots where attendees never leave their cars, on the grounds that it’s an illegal gathering? 

What about communities that set up snitch lines and encourage residents to monitor their neighbours and report if they have more than the maximum number of visitors at their Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners? And now, in a brazen display of doubling down on a strategy that is demonstrably ineffective, governments are now imposing curfews. 

Think about that. 

 Curfews. 

Apparently, it’s not enough to order restaurants, bars, and other places where people might congregate after hours to close, people should not even be able to leave their homes after dark without risking arrest. 

Is this really the sort of society we want to live in? 

Of course, placing the entire population under effective house arrest at night will only result in more public activity during the hours when they are allowed to be out. Grocery stores, for instance, will be more crowded during the day. In short, curfews create the very social conditions they are intended to prevent. 

Look, I get it. The government wants to make sure that our health care system is not overwhelmed by patients suffering from COVID-19. That’s the real reason why rules are devised and enforced in an effort to keep local rates of infection under control. Doug Ford as much as said so the other day. But are lockdowns the right way to keep accomplish this? 

A more sensible approach, I think, would be to keep our communities open and free - ie quarantining only those who are actually infected - while expanding health care facilities on a temporary basis when and where necessary. This could mean adding beds to existing ICUs or expanding ICUs in existing hospitals. It could even mean erecting temporary buildings or converting existing spaces into temporary hospitals. 

I don’t under-rate the complexity and cost of such an approach. In the end, however, I believe that the cost will be less than the current course of action. 

Freezing the economy, destroying people’s livelihoods, and now virtually imprisoning the entire population. These are the actions one would expect of a 3rd world dictator, not our governments. The path we are on clearly is not working, and the damage it is wreaking to the economy, to the integrity of government, and to the spirit of our people is beyond calculation. 

It’s time for a fundamental course correction in response to this pandemic. If our leaders don’t change, then perhaps it will be time for a fundamental change in leadership. 

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