By Marco Navarro-Genie
Tuesday, December 15, 2020
Our biggest COVID-19 problem is undue panic
Frontier Centre for Public Policy
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 announce new records in the number of COVID-19 cases. The federal health minister, the chief medical officer and the prime minister are ringing bells about a second COVID-19 wave. They renewed calls for stricter measures short of another devastating lockdown, and the provinces followed suit.
Despite the contradictory details, panic is what threads the inconsistencies in their messages.
This panic didn’t arrive with the first few COVID-19 deaths. Let’s recall that all three public officials initially assured us the risk for Canada was very low. Rather, the panic followed the release of statistical models. They didn’t know better when dread replaced common sense. There was no reliable data. The World Health Organization (WHO) and Chinese numbers couldn’t be trusted, and images from Spain and Italy painted a grim picture.
So governments resorted to theoretical models. Using British epidemiologist 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, 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 rolls in daily. These data tell a story that doesn’t justify the continued panic, the restrictions trampling liberties, the orders killing businesses, and the health directives making public health even worse. Even with the current case resurgence in mind, they don’t justify the levels of hardship, suffering and deaths resulting from government lockdown policies.
Spain, one of the hardest-hit countries, has 88 per 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 95.5 per cent fewer deaths on the average than at the spring peak, even though the second infection wave is larger. The same pattern can be seen for Italy and many other countries.
Canada’s second-wave infections are now more numerous than at the May peak, but with 80 per cent fewer deaths. The trend of increased infections, in other words, won’t overwhelm health systems. The overwhelming problem is moral panic among decision makers.
Sweden, which refused to panic and didn’t lockdown, is in even better shape. It’s 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 98 per cent fewer 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 provinces that are driving the second wave in Canada still have a significant number of infections shamefully continuing in long-term care facilities.
The time has come to stop obsessing about the number of cases, even if they’re rising. Cases don’t equal hospitalizations and they don’t equal deaths. The time has come to stop being led by panic.
There’s 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’re corrupting parliamentary traditions, undermining democratic practices, curtailing the powers of Parliament, and 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 doesn’t justify fostering the growing litany of government-inflicted miseries.
Marco Navarro-Génie is a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and the president of the Haultain Research Institute. He is co-author, with Barry Cooper, of the upcoming COVID-19: The Politics of a Pandemic Moral Panic.