Two pandemics are more frightful than one

This week marked the anniversary of the COVID-19 confinements that were only supposed to last for a few weeks. That was 52 weeks ago.

In many ways, fear became the pandemic. Different people drive the COVID-19 fear, but its principal generators are statisticians and the medical bureaucrats–the experts “advising” the politicians, who in turn display appearances of virtue claiming to save lives. In competing for our attention, the media are a gigantic amplifier of COVID-19 fear.  

Along life-saving claims, Canada’s chief medical officer has finally admitted presiding over a massive failure in protecting the most vulnerable, who constitute the majority of the dead.  Camouflaging the failure, authorities confine and restrict us the more with the pretense of protecting us. Yet, the vulnerable keep dying and those with much lesser risk are confined into domestic violence situations, forcibly unemployed, forced to forgo treatments for chronic illnesses, forced to watch their business crash and their saving vaporize. It has taken a year for Teresa Tam to admit failure but she has manifested no desire to correct or reverse course.

Neither the admission of failure nor the absence of solutions (other than to hope for vaccination) have stopped the fear wagon that sent us here a year ago. Instead, in time for the anniversary, fresh alarmist calls give more horsepower to the wagon. Experts are calling for greater lockdowns, more restrictive and oppressive. And they are doing so in language that instills even more fear.

For what could be more frightful than a pandemic? Two pandemics! Two pandemics are more frightful than one.

The week before the anniversary of the WHO declaring the COVID-19 pandemic, a Laurentian medical bureaucrat ominously heralded a brand new source of fear. “Today we are in a … transition to a new pandemic,” Eileen de Villa said on March 8. She is Mayor John Tory’s controversial medical officer of health in Toronto and an adjunct at the University of Toronto. She was commenting on statistical modelling crafted at York University. The model would have us believe that Toronto alone could see “15,865 deaths by May” of this year if SARS-CoV-2, propelled by new variants, reached an infection rate of 20 percent. For perspective, that would amount to over 75 percent of all COVID-19-related deaths so far recorded in Canada.

To be clear, whatever the fantastic predictions of a model, the health officer of a single city, even if it is Toronto’s, has zero authority to declare a new pandemic. A pandemic is a global event, not an outbreak inside a city, a province, or even a country. De Villa’s proclamation constitutes a deliberate exaggeration and an unseemly self-anointing with immense authority. How does one take de Villa seriously when making planet-size pronouncements?

It took only three days for a University of Toronto colleague to outdo De Villa’s ridiculous fear-mongering declaration. Peter Juni, director of the Ontario science advisory table, raced out of the transition de Villa announced by declaring that the second pandemic had in fact arrived. Jurisdictionally, Juni has even less medical authority than de Villa but that did not temper him in saying more outrageous and terrifying things. According to Juni, the arrival of a “new pandemic,” identified with B.1.1.7, the so-called British strand, should be distinguished from “the traditional pandemic” that originated in Wuhan, China. The absurd, puzzling and disorienting is also scary: Juni’s science table reported  “exponential growth” (as if viruses advance in any other way) driving a “third wave” of COVID-19 that he described in less than scientific terms as “a pandemic within a pandemic” (Ironically, the expression appeared in September 2020 in the NEJM to describe the domestic abuse spiked by the lockdowns that Juni recommends with feigned reservation).

Peddling the fear of a second pandemic obscures the reality that B.1.1.7 advanced inside the second lockdown that has not even fully ended. Juni does not wonder if lockdowns have failed. Instead, he calls for even “firmer” lockdowns, by which he means more draconian, and to which he refers as “the right thing.” Doug Ford says he “always respects” and will do what the medical experts say. But Juni is no brute; he offers comfort: “If this works out well with the vaccines,” he says, “… it will be the last time that we do that. There won’t be any more lockdowns.”

Who can maintain faith in lockdown promises and medical bureaucrats when we consider the abominable failure in protecting the most vulnerable during two separate viral waves, two rounds of harmful lockdowns and curfews that keep expanding and extending, the draconian arrests and fines, the incalculable hurt of unintended health, social and economic consequences, the ongoing botched vaccination efforts? Let’s now add, a year into it, the prideful flights of fancy of local bureaucrats declaring newer and scarier pandemics.