Editorial: The world's powers were massively unprepared for Covid-19; Unpacking the slow mo response
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We are living in a constant state of heightened anxiety as a species at this juncture in our collective human history. As I borrow from a Star Trek meme which quotes "Waking up every morning in 2020 is like asking for the Damage Report." As part of the media group I wake up to my inbox flooded with emails from all levels of government, departments, etc. All about the same subject. COVID-19. We are living, breathing and discussing this virus. And as recently as a couple of minutes ago my phone now flashes an Emergency Alert at me notifying me that if I'm crazy enough to travel these days I should quarantine myself for 14 of them. All of this has come too late.
For the last two weeks my world has been a non-stop whirlwind of breaking news and cortisol levels at an uncomfortably high level. Sometimes press releases or new info is unclear or preliminary or actually true and scary for many people. Tensions are heightened and accusation of fake news are flying all over the world wide web. Believe me most journalists are bending themselves into pretzels in the Covid-19 times to bring you factual, up to date and well sourced news. We deliver the message but that message comes from the people orchestrating the show and it seems that they might have been underwhelmingly unprepared for this unprecedented pathogen. This is more like a movie than we would care to admit.
In my humble opinion we are receiving mixed signals from our top government officials tasked to keep us safe. Things like stay away from each other at least 6 feet apart but at the same time attend work. Signals like please isolate yourself as you continue to travel as oppose to just grounding passenger air travel entirely because it's a necessity for our very survival it seems. Or is it? Because it if truly was wouldn't the people tasked with keeping us safe have shut down all non-essential global travel upon the discovery of the virus on the very first flight. Call me crazy but it seems to me that temporarily crippling the travel and hospitality industry would have made more sense than brining the world economy to its knees. As past governments have proven corporate bail outs are always on the table. This might have been at least a slow re-start for that industry. Instead it seems unpreparedness prevailed. Also possibly the thought of another stock market crash, which in hind sight was only a mere few days away, should the airline industry come to a complete halt might have also played a part in simply letting the show go on.
Canada is a very hospitable country, however, our borders should have been closed to non-essential travel at least a week if not sooner before that decision was ultimately made. A week before our borders were closed, and not completely as US travel was ongoing, Italians were recording themselves with COVID-19 infected corpses of their relatives in their homes as coroners could not keep up with the demand of picking up bodies. From an observational vantage point it's hard to comprehend how governments world wide missed this freight train.
Today I listened to a local public health official say that in his opinion the regions (Simcoe Muskoka) current death rate seems high sitting at about 10 per cent. Yes these numbers will more than likely fluctuate, however, he mentioned this fact for a reason. He also said to take this virus "seriously." But when non-essential services are permitted to operate under the guise that somehow in the construction world anything other than hospital builds should continue business as usual, with a few cleanliness guidelines thrown in, people don't feel inclined to take it seriously.
Early on in March just before Ford issued the emergency order, a team of medical professionals from the University of Toronto consisting of virologists, epidemiologists, and front line doctors were urging the province to shut down completely in an open letter addressed to the Premier. It was days later that Ford announced a shut down of non-essential businesses. The criteria for non-essential, however, is broad and wide and many people are confused by what their rights are at this point should they feel unsafe going to work.
The government message has been very clear; Physical distancing, stay home, assume everyone is infected. You can't expect people not to be afraid and want to stay home and not have to make the choice to continue to work or to prioritize family and health. So while the inept emergency order was broad and wide perhaps if all truly non-essentials business owners including manufactures of non-essential want items, real estate agents - unless in the middle of a deal, I get it, and others stepped up and locked down for two to three weeks as a collective perhaps you could do your part in actually planking the curve. Unfortunately if everyone is not on board the playing field is not equal and therefore this will continue to spread unless you all get on the same page. The only items which should be on planes, trucks and trains now are ESSENTIALS; Food, medicine, medical equipment, gas, oil, IT equipment, delivery people of the essentials and That's It. Commerce over health is not a good position to corner people into mentally right now. Now is not the time to try to save capitalistic commerce, freeze it all at once so that business hunger games aren't a necessity and ride this out actually together. Together in this as a physically distanced but a socially connected web of individuals.
I've been trying to understand how as a collective governments failed to work more closely together, why tighter controls were not enforced at airports all over the world in late January when it was clear China had a massive outbreak. Why travel wasn't paused all together by mid-February. Again from an observational point of view the reaction to the pandemic seemed reactive instead of prepared. It was evident that when the Prime Minister's office announced that his wife tested positive for Covid-19 even officials at the highest level of government were not taking this seriously It became further apparent that this pathogen was underestimated by some Canadian medical officials when they all congregated for a bonspiel in Alberta after travelling from different parts of the world and country well after the virus was public and clearly spreading via travel. The end result of this medical fun get together was the positive Covid-19 diagnosis for Alberta's chief medical officer who attended the bonspiel.
In conversation with Dr. David Speicher, molecular virologist and clinical epidemiologist currently working at McMaster University and St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton, he did not mince words when I spoke with him mid-March and he stated that he thinks that "many Canadians and the government have a head in the sand approach. I've been trying to share all the relevant things as they occur on facebook and have been accused of fear mongering. This is a new coronavirus. During SARS it took 1 month to figure out what the virus was. This virus and the science is going so fast. We knew what the virus was in 2-3 weeks."
"As soon as our Minister of Health said that Canada was at low risk I knew this was going to go pandemic. The Feds today budgetted $1B to the fight. That is over a month too late. We had time to prepare for the pandemic wave and we are only now bringing what we need online," Speicher said.
He was also clear when he said that North America was not prepared and as if predicting the slowness of the North American government response two weeks ago he stressed that "we need to observe what is going on in Europe and Asia and expect that that will come here."
If you haven't yes observed what is currently occurring in Europe I highly recommend reading some international news, set up a Twitter account and follow as many world journalists as you can. Collectively we are all in the same boat, though for some people this is almost rock bottom, however, this is also an opportunity to actually come together as a human race instead of being class divided so that we can go back to regular life. Whatever that new post Covid-19 "regular" life might look like. Maybe this was an aha moment for the inhabitatns of this planet, maybe on some level a re-start button has been pushed. Whatever that new reality might be we are still in this together so level the playing field, freeze everything, and actually #plankthecurve.