Do Harsher Restrictions Save Lives?

The most cited reason for COVID lockdowns has been the protection of health care systems. The claim is that such protection saves lives. So, it is fair to ask how health systems are performing in their lockdown life-saving duty? 

There are several points from which one can compare health jurisdictions and how they have done in their fight against COVID-19. Once can compare rates of infection, number of deaths, deaths per capita, survival rates, and so forth. No point of comparison is perfect, and each has its own limitations. The size of a country, the concentration of its population, its geography, its wealth, its pre-COVID healthiness, and its policies can all be influences or justifications for difference.

One way to compare jurisdictions is to ask about the survival chances of those confirmed to have been infected by SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus. Among those infected, how many die and how many survive in a jurisdiction might tell us something about the health of the population or about how a health system reacts and copes with crises.

Some will complain that it’s unfair to evaluate health systems in populations that are older or poorer in such a way. And the criticism would be justified. Comparing Canada to Bolivia, for instance, would be unfair. But comparing Canada with Sweden would be less unfair. And how do Canadian provinces compare to one another? In Canada we have mechanisms designed to equalize programs delivered to citizens so that Canadians receive accessible and comparable levels of service. This is the case with healthcare.

All things being equalized, care for COVID-19 patients in Manitoba should therefore not differ greatly from care given in Saskatchewan, or even further away in Nova Scotia. Comparatively, regardless how much each province spends, Canadian provinces have similar capacity for their health systems, or so we are told.

On a per capita basis, more COVID-19 patients have died in Sweden than in Canada. As of September 24, Sweden’s 1,449 deaths per million doubled Canada’s 720. Sweden’s case numbers per million (112,713) are 3 times larger than Canada’s (41,517), even though Sweden’s population is less than one third that of Canada’s.  Many Canadians have pointed at these ratios, including Alberta’s government, to justify lockdowns by contrast to Sweden’s “softer touch” in dealing with COVID-19.

However, as a percentage of their own respective cases, more have died in Canada than in Sweden. Among people who have contracted COVID-19, the Swedish medical system has saved 34 per cent more of their patients. Or, flipped around, Canadians who contracted COVID-19 have died at a greater ratio than Swedes. This begs the question why, with 3 times the comparative number of cases, the smaller country’s health system has coped and has saved more of their sick than Canada has: 1.3 percent of infected Swedes have died versus 1.73 percent of Canadians.

And what of our provinces? Here are the current percentages of deaths among the confirmed COVID-19 cases: 1.06 in British Columbia; 0.92 in Alberta; 1.03 in Saskatchewan; 2.01 in Manitoba; 1.66 in Ontario; 2.79 in Quebec; 1.4 in New Brunswick; 1.48 in Nova Scotia; 0 in PEI; and 0.44 in Newfoundland and Labrador.

There are far too many variables at play to generalise as to why these numbers are so. But for all that is being said about Alberta today, infected Albertans have so far survived COVID-19 at three times the rate of Quebeckers, and nearly at twice the rate of the average Canadian.

Albertans with COVID-19 have had a better chance than infected people in any other province except for PEI and Newfoundland. Manitobans would do well to ask how their COVID-19-stricken have died at twice the rate of those in Saskatchewan. Urban Ontario’s lockdowns have been quite brutal but the ratio of death per cases in the province is roughly on the Canadian average.

The ferocity of police enforcement with border closures and tight general curfews in Quebec’s lockdowns stand out with the worst record of deaths per infected cases in the country. Theirs is more comparable to Italy, which has the worst record among Western European states, and it is worse than Russia’s. Quebecers must ask themselves why.

In Western Europe, like in Canada, the jurisdictions with the most repressive lockdowns have typically had the higher death rates per case. The harder these jurisdictions have professed to protect their health system, the less well they have done at protecting people who are actually infected. It seems more than irony. It looks like a correlation.

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