Coronavirus: How Are Governments Doing?

In times like this, we find out what our governments are made of. Every one of them is making it up as they go along. Some are doing well, and others aren’t.

Nova Scotia and the other Maritime provinces are better off than most. As of March 26th, every reported case but one was traceable to international travel. In Nova Scotia, there has been a continuous ramp-up of capabilities.

The number of testing sites has grown as has the capacity to evaluate the tests, and retired health care professionals are being relicensed. Admissions for the virus so far are few, but space is already being made available in intensive care units by postponing some surgeries.

The 811 service has been the key gateway for testing. Its capacity is now being substantially expanded.

Premier McNeil has been visible making daily announcements along with Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s Chief Medical Officer. Although the early case count has been low, the province was ahead of others in announcing isolation requirements for just about everyone not involved in providing essential services. The Nova Scotia Health Authority seems to have shed its bureaucratic shackles and looks nimble.

It is early days, but the province appears to be doing a good job.

Prime Minister Trudeau’s government has had some awkward moments. In early February, US President Donald Trump announced a ban on foreign travellers coming from China. Trudeau could not resist the temptation to proclaim virtue, announcing that Canada’s borders remained open.

More recently, the Liberals hugely overreached in their first effort to legislate the economic support package they had announced. It sought vast powers to tax and spend without parliamentary oversight.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and the other opposition parties were willing to support the spending but not the extension of powers. They balked and the government hastily retreated.

It is unfortunate that Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau contracted the COVID-19 virus, but politically it was a great help to the government. It gave the Prime Minister instant credibility to stand in front of his house telling Canadians that they need to stay home.

More importantly, he was confined to a carefully prepared text which he delivered with no more than the usual number of verbal tics. Meanwhile, the team at the office was making a course correction. Canada went from being open to one of the most closed countries in the world.

Lots of exceptions were needed (approved immigrants, temporary foreign workers, health professionals, diplomats etc.) and duly announced. In these circumstances, it is more important to be fast than to get all the details right the first time.

Provinces west of New Brunswick are experiencing community spreading which is a much more difficult challenge for both provincial and federal governments.

Overall, the Liberals get a passing grade. Compared to the White House they look brilliant.

There have been two routes to a successful response to the COVID-19 virus. In China, there was massive enforced social isolation, especially in Wuhan, the province where it started. The result is that they now report fewer than 5,000 active cases, a number that Canada will soon pass.

The possibility that these numbers have been amended for propaganda value should not be dismissed, but the video evidence of Wuhan coming back to life is telling.

The second route, exemplified by Taiwan and South Korea, involved massive early accumulation of necessary resources—testing kits and sites, intensive care resources, and most crucially an internet and software strategy to track patients and their contacts.

Donald Trump’s initial reaction was to label the whole thing as a hoax. Coupled with depleted public health resources, this meant they wasted two precious months of preparation time.

Then he decided that it was a public emergency and proclaimed a period of public separation, currently scheduled to end on April 5th, all the while musing irresponsibly about possibilities for early arrival of a cure or vaccine.

During this time, the stock market was in free fall. Trump seems to view that as a more reliable guide to health policy than the advice of professionals. He now is suggesting that isolation should be loosened by mid-April so that, among other things, people can crowd together and share their germs at Easter.

Meanwhile, new cases—already over 10,000 a day—have been growing rapidly. The United States passed China this week for the most cases and will reach 100,000 this weekend. New York alone has over 40,000.

Many of the state governors are trying to impose much stricter controls but the shortage of essential resources and the undermining by the President makes their life difficult.

Perhaps most depressing of all are the sycophantic conservative commentators on Fox News and elsewhere, swerving like a flock of swallows each time the wind from Trump changes direction.

The world’s most advanced health care system risks being overwhelmed by the consequences of this incompetence.

We should be glad that our only land border is largely closed and hope for the sake of our friends south of the border that sanity takes hold soon.


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