Tom Hanks has the flu!

Let me apologize for this blog from the start. I resisted, I tried, I really did, and I fretted about being lumped in with the cacophony of 24 hour looped newscasts and radio programming–  pontificating, lecturing, and speculating on what the World Health Organization  originally called a “containable” virus. 

However, there are a few aspects of this virus and the efforts to contain it which seems particularly troubling, maybe even frightening and needing comment. These worries have very little to do with the actual treatment of the virus itself. 

First and foremost is the cynical and hypocritical political elements tainting this pandemic. Layers of policy and regulation, confusion spread day after day, by multiple levels of government, all vying to give the impression of knowing and assuring us of their being in control.

Maybe even more troubling is that Canadians seem willing to suspend their beliefs, their rights and even their democratic system of government—without question or debate, to the point of allowing arbitrary arrest and detention. Rationality and common sense seem to have been put in suspended animation. 

What is also becoming painfully clear, is that our health system, which is often held to be of the highest standard, is lacking the medical architecture and preparation to deal with an event of this nature. We have a sometimes naive optimism of our health system, especially if we look south of our border, but this pandemic has exposed for the world to see that the critical care infrastructure in Canada when compared to other countries is lacking.

The final major concern is the trumpet blaring 5th Estate; continually poking and prodding those very susceptible twitter influenced politicians, not for some greater good, but so that they can engage and re-claim the viewership which a few weeks ago was disappearing. It is blatant and its alarming that journalism has erupted into a medium which is only driven by ratings. CTV, CBC, and Global have become the National Enquirers of Canadian television. Drunk in the knowledge that  blaring headlines, like the title of this blog, whether in the grocery store lineup, or on every news broadcast during an epidemic does draw looks. 

The inflammation of headlines, the use of distorted and misleading statistics, the constant blaring of dire warnings and war terminology are all an attempt to pull viewers back into their net. The election of Trump is often credited with saving the large daily newspapers in the U.S., this pandemic has become for television, their future lifeline. 

American television news and cable organizations are now seeing gains in their viewers, not seen since 2005. Canadian news, equally, has been invigorated by the need by all Canadians now drawn to their dire pronouncements, like pedestrians to a car accident, bugs to the light. They are hoping that by converting their network to strictly coronavirus news networks (CNN ironically) that they will be saved from future oblivion. They are unworried about responsible reporting or fact checking, the headline or bannered scroll is king. If this were the only repercussion from their self-interest maybe it could be tolerated, but it is driving stock markets, fomenting a possible recession, increasing anxiety and depression, and alarmist behaviour. 

 The herd mentality thanks to the networks devotion is in full swing; economic damage, reports of ridiculous and increasingly abhorrent behaviour, jammed Emergency rooms, the Prime Minister intoning in eulogistic tones of “the government being here for you”. Christya Freeland the other day telling the old folks that “we love you” all forming part of the “news”.

The media is akin to the snapping wolf at a herd of sheep, trying to incite the herd to panic. Panic after all is news, calm is not. The description of this virus as the “Apocalypse” plays through the broadcasts in a rising crescendo, day after day, one story more dire than the next. In the last couple of days the “catastrophe” is evolving to war terminology, comparisons to Vietnam war losses the latest angle of reporting. As normally an ardent admirer of the journalistic cause, the situation in Canada is dispiriting. 

 Every day, in every Province, the Prime Minister, Health heads, Cabinet, Mayors and the like trot out the daily numbers like lottery numbers, feeding the media beast, of those that have tested positive for the coronavirus. 

The problem with this of course, is that all numbers are skewed and as any one who has taken a basic statistics course will tell you, all data can be manipulated. 

 There are some basic numbers that seem consistent. Those that are being tested, believing that they may have the virus and are sick enough to come in for testing, only 6% of those people tested are hospitalized. As numbers of tests are increased, that 6% number will also decrease. So roughly 94% of the country will not be affected in any major way during this time of “crisis”.

Let’s look at another number. As of today there are 15,443 cases in Canada. That is .04173 percent of the population of Canada. If, speculatively the cases should rise to 10 times that number, to 154,443 cases. That would represent 0.4174 percent of the Canadian population getting the virus. 

In terms of fatalities there are currently 277 fatalities which represents .000748 % of all Canadians. 

Deeply flawed numbers and thus their projections and models, are what the government is going to rely on to determine if the “curve has flattened”. As the New York Times stated recently: “no complete picture of the virus exists anywhere because of factors beyond government suppression, including testing shortages and asymptomatic infections that could account for up to one in four coronavirus cases”.

Ontario just released its modelling data. Showing, of course, how many lives are being saved by medical incursion, while at the same time Dr. Aleman an Ontario doctor states that “it is essentially impossible to obtain real data”. He went on to say the at “real data wasn’t readily available for H1N1 which is just ten years ago and its not readily available now.” All this is to say that modelling and projecting is a very inexact science”.

This is not to downplay any death, but if one is developing and presenting national policies one needs to look at the larger picture, at a macro level. It may seem cold and calculating, but it is absolutely necessary to gaining some level of perspective and understanding. When imposing a policy of shutdown, it would have been more ideal to have numbers that were more relevant and verifiable.

A month ago, few were believing in the Liberals and their ability to run this country— as roadblocks halted the Canadian economy—as Alberta oil business was being destroyed piece by piece— we still had a government who for the last four years is still unable to fix the Phoenix Pay system. 

Suddenly, three weeks later we are now believers in their ability to manage government, after all they were assuring us that they are there “for you” resolutely standing “shoulder to shoulder”. Now, apparently capable of minor miracles in order to ease the suffering and pain of the virus. 

They make constant referrals to how they have learned from the SARS epidemic. Really? What did they learn? One would have thought that having enough face masks for medical staff during a time of predictable pandemics, would have been a basic learned lesson. One would also have thought that respirators were a basic component of any intensive care unit. Apparently not. 

Daily briefings by Mr. Trudeau in that sotto voce voice is pure politics. Every day he feels the need to announce something, anything. Do you believe that Trudeau and his cohorts are un-concerned about how this “plays” to the national audience? Do you believe that he is unaware that the nation turns their eyes to him, that every newscast is solely on him for a half hour a day? No one could normally afford such political advertising. 

 Their cover story for constant tuning in, and constantly changing policies is that the situation is changing “every minute”. Well that is not quite true is it?  Do you really think that there are daily changes in the virus, other than its spread. We have been told from the beginning about “social distancing” and “washing our hands”, not much is changed in terms of the science. We have known from the very beginning that the elderly and those with respiratory ailments were the most vulnerable. 

But of course Mr. Trudeau has some competition in this contest of one up man ship as the Provinces and even the Mayors don’t want to be left behind in the parade of caring. The health backed policies came out day after day, changing constantly, varied between Provinces and the Feds. No central answer or direction, all went through the governmental political filters of each Province, and then to the Municipalities.

Province after Province, declaring states of emergency.  The government actions increased day after day. Close the schools, close the parks, crowds of 500, no crowds of 50, no, no crowds at all allowed. Free flowing borders are o.k. No they are not, close the borders. 

These political decisions have led to more than a few oddities. Public Beaches in Vancouver being patrolled and individuals being ticketed for standing too close to one another, while a few blocks down on the Downtown Eastside, they lay side by side on the sidewalks. Provincial parks are closed but Oppenheimer Park, that campground of drugs, violence, and general mayhem is in full bloom. 

Below the surface the Canadian government is not telling you everything. No news about the fact that almost all the Federal government is sitting at home, and many can not work from home because of technical issues. Band-width a growing deterrent to Federal employees working at home. This includes the RCMP. Services Canada offices, the agency, which a lot of people depend in terms of employment issues etc. has closed its offices.  The CBC has closed its local offices, once an agency willing to send its journalists into war ravaged countries in the interest of obtaining the news, now unwilling to face a “possible” virus in a local Vancouver office.

It is well known that government as a functioning enterprise is flawed. It doesn’t work well, efficiently or quickly even in the best of times. Governments working efficiently with other governments is a rarity. Government working on three levels simultaneously does not happen. No government works quickly. 

 Their ability to deliver the economic promises is questionable —  but everyone wants to believe. In economic terms the Trudeau Liberals had already established a very clear method in dealing with any problem. Spend, spend, and then spend some more. 

To be fair, most economists seem to agree that the nature of this economic stalemate is that monies should be pumped into the economy.  It is contingent that when this is all over, the economy will bounce back to its former place without a hitch. That is a big assumption and as time ticks on, it is becoming a less safe bet.

The pronouncement of the Quarantine Act only triggered calls by the press for the Emergencies Act to be declared. Formerly the War Measures Act, it constitutes the complete removal of individual rights; allowing for arrests, detention and deportation with no recourse. 

Clearly we do not learn from history. We didn’t learn from SARS, or any of the other pandemics, and as history has taught us, declaration of the War Measures Act on three occasions was an unmitigated disaster. Are we bound to repeat our mistakes? Trudeau did say that nothing was off the table.

Television commentators are pushing the government on why they haven’t used it, politicians such as Rona Ambrose are even calling for it. You can rest assured that if the ill-informed cries gain momentum, pressure will build and Mr. Trudeau and his Cabinet may not be far behind. So far he has resisted in copying his father into history.

Justin Trudeau did try and pass a bill giving him total authority of spending for the next two years, and suborning Parliament. Hyperbole of “we as a nation” and “team Canada” are fuelling a consideration of authoritarian limits on individual freedom. As Mr. Trudeau says, “if it comes to that”.

The neo-Liberal press, normally playing the victimization card and the rights of the dis-enfranchised, are disconcertedly now cheer leading from the sidelines for an Act that would do away with civil liberties. Apparently their principles of civil liberties has a limit.

At the end of all this and there will be an end, Canadians need to be asking a couple of basic questions. Was this the right response to the virus? There is some evidence that we are hitting a mosquito with a sledge hammer.  Maybe a more targeted and specific response was warranted. Maybe a cruise missile rather than the atomic bomb. 

Sweden, which did undertake a contrarian viewpoint, is worth watching.  It has isolated the very vulnerable, but many aspects of life such as schooling are carrying on. 

We have quickly learned that there has been a single solitary reason to panic during this disease. Simply put, our hospitals are not equipped to handle this pandemic, in fact next to Mexico our hospitals are the poorest equipped of all OECD countries. Frances Woolley, professor of economics at Carleton University in a Financial Post article states that “a cold hard look at the numbers suggests our hospitals cannot cope with the most flattened of curves. Indeed, they cannot cope with any kind of curve at all”

Consider that Italy has one-third more acute care hospital beds per capita than Canada, and twice as many per capita as Ontario. Half of Ontario hospitals are at over capacity for much of the year. The U.S., is in contrast also in trouble despite a hospital sector that is only at 64 per cent capacity nationally. 

Will the subsequent economic damage be overwhelming and reach into the heart of both the economy and its democracy?  Only time will tell, but there is little doubt that the lower middle class and poor will suffer disproportionately .

It is doubtful as to whether the Liberal government or any of the Provincial governments will be in the mood for a critical review, much more likely they will be applauding their efforts on every front. But we need to insist on a thorough and broad examination of both our preparatory efforts and our conclusions. 

Maybe a global approach, not a closed border approach would have worked better, a sharing of information, a global scientific approach as opposed to a political singular approach with all its vested selfish interests. In this inter-connected world our first reaction when pushed, was to insulate ourselves.

In the meantime,  my only advice is to turn off the news, ignore the numbers being spewed at you. Ignore the politicians. Listen to the scientific community.  

Will we get through this? Of course, but it won’t be because of swift and insightful actions of government agencies. This is not a “war” it is a string of proteins trying to find a place to live, there is a big difference. The great majority of the population that gets infected, well over 90% will survive with symptoms resembling the common cold.

For others, it is a devastating sinister disease which seems intent on taking out those that have lived long lives and maybe we didn’t do enough to protect them. Close to 30% of the deaths in Canada are occurring in nursing homes. Hopefully in the future we will learn from this single startling fact.

The health care workers, doctors and other emergency personnel will continue to do their job, they will go to work as always.  They will improvise and go around the levels of authority to get things done. Private industry is stepping up and adapting, breweries making hand sanitizer, clothing companies making masks, private labs trying to develop a vaccine. Police officers are still answering calls and the government will “eventually” get cheques to people. 

The eerie sound of people clanging pots and pans reverberating through the downtown abandoned corridors of Vancouver will eventually subside, but that sound should not be forgotten. 

We apparently didn’t hear it the last time. 

Photo Courtesy of Dan Gaken via Flickr Commons – Some Rights Reserved

2 thoughts on “Tom Hanks has the flu!

  1. Quite frankly, at the risk of being called a conspiracy nut (I don’t believe it’s theory anymore), I think there is an agenda here to get control of people, and I am stunned by how willingly people are complying, to the point that they are reporting on one another if they are seen walking together. Very disturbing to me.

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