It’s Time to End the Politics of Panic

Seven months since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, against evidence and common sense, media, elected officials and health experts continue peddling the panic that gripped them in March. 

Almost daily, headlines in the first week of October announced new records in the number of COVID-19 cases. This is mostly happening in Laurentian Canada, which is why Patty Hajdu, the federal health minister, Teresa Tam, the chief medical officer, and Justin Trudeau, the prime minister, rang bells about a second COVID-19 wave and renewed calls for stricter measures short of another devastating lockdown.  Despite the contradictory details, panic is what threads the inconsistencies in their messages. 

This panic did not arrive with the first few COVID-19 deaths. Let’s recall that Hadju, Tam and Trudeau initially assured us the risk for Canada was very low. Rather, the panic followed the release of statistical models. They did not know better when dread replaced common sense.  There were no reliable data. The WHO and Chinese numbers could not be trusted, and images from Spain and Italy painted a grim picture. 

So, governments resorted to theoretical models. Using Neil Ferguson’s model that predicted tens of millions of deaths from COVID-19, lockdowns were imposed. Based on such models, the federal government’s predictions released on April 9th warned of 44,000 deaths across Canada. Two days earlier, Albertans heard about the possibility of as many as 6,600 deaths for the province, a figure only one digit shy of full apocalyptic symbolism.

The models were wrong (Ferguson has been abominably wrong almost every time), and so were most decisions issued from them. Let’s remind ourselves that governments chose to lock us down so that the health system would not be overwhelmed.  That was then. With sorrowful hearts and without minimizing the losses, we know better now.  

Fresh data roll in daily. These data tell a story that does not justify the continued panic, the restrictions trampling liberties, the orders killing businesses, the health directives making public health even worse. Even with the current case resurgence in mind, they do not justify the levels of hardship, suffering, and deaths (yes, deaths!) resulting from government lockdown policies. 

By October 6, the worldwide number of infections continued to rise while the number of deaths decreased. Spain, one of the hardest-hit countries, has 88per cent less casualties during the second wave of infections than it experienced in March having similar numbers of cases. Belgium, the European country with the worst mortality rate per population, has now 95.5per cent less deaths on the average than at the Spring peak, even though the second infection wave is larger. The same pattern for Italy and many others. Canada’s second wave infections are now (October 6) more numerous than at the May peak, but with 80per cent less deaths. The trend of increased infections, in other words, will not overwhelm health systems. The overwhelming problem is moral panic among decision makers.

Sweden, which refused to panic and did not lockdown, is in even better shape. Indeed, it is also experiencing a resurgence in infection cases. But with only half the size of the peak numbers now than it had in June, deaths are 98per cent less than in the Spring.  Overall, the fears of a worse second wave are unfounded. Furthermore, Sweden’s unique case demonstrates that the government-imposed lockdown experiments are largely irrelevant to the advance or slowdown of COVID-19 infections.

Let’s protect the people at risk, and let’s do it well. The Laurentian provinces that are driving the second wave in Canada, still have a good number of infections shamefully continuing in long term care facilities.

But the time has come to stop obsessing about the number of cases, even if they are rising, which is what media and government websites single-mindedly report. Cases do not equal hospitalizations and they do not equal deaths. The time has come to stop being led by panic.

Conversely, there is ample evidence that the lockdown policies governments imposed on Canadians have increased a host of social and economic evils that may be worse than the disease they sought to prevent: they are corrupting parliamentary traditions, undermining democratic practices, curtailing the powers of Parliament, undermining national health and the national economic interest. They have contributed to bankrupting businesses, killing jobs, heaping mountains of debt, vaporizing savings, fostering spikes in numbers of suicides, drug overdoses, family breakdowns, domestic violence, child abuses, and much more. 

The continued but misplaced fear about case numbers does not justify fostering the growing litany of government-inflicted miseries.

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