After weeks of confinement in response to the COVID19 pandemic people are understandably getting tired of staying home, being kept from their jobs and prevented from seeing friends and family. Many people are asking if these measures are necessary, if Canada’s response has been exaggerated and an increasing number of individuals are sharing conspiracy theories.
People ask why we are doing this and why we should continue social distancing if our hospitals are still functioning under their maximum capacity. Some people say that we should sacrifice lives of venerable people and seniors in order to get the economy back up and running. As someone who has been in confinement for almost five weeks now I understand how this situation can be frustrating but I strongly disagree with the arguments mentioned above; here is why.
Before this crisis hit Canada’s healthcare system was already stretched to the limit. In Québec nurses were being forced to work overtime, wait lists were far too long and the system was overworked. We were operating without stockpiles of key medical equipment such as masks, medications and other key products. We were unprepared for a global pandemic despite the warning signs and despite the fact that pandemics are natural occurrences that we have seen in history many times over. The system was barely functioning when the pandemic hit which left us with no choice other than to tae emergency measures. Pandemics can overwhelm even the most efficient healthcare systems.
In Italy and in New York we are seeing what can happen when a medical system is overwhelmed by the sheer volume of cases. Healthcare workers are forced to decide who will receive life-saving treatment and who will not. People are dying on beds in hallways because there are insufficient resources available to treat them. Our goal in Canada has been to avoid such a catastrophe at all costs. This lack of preparedness has forced us to rely on isolation and social distancing while governments struggle to prepare the system and secure medical equipment at a time when the supply chain has been severely compromised by the fact that so many countries are in the same situation as us; without adequate stockpiles.
Social Distancing Is Working
The only reason that our healthcare system has not exceeded its capacity so far is that we have implemented strong social distancing measures that have severely slowed the spread of the virus. This does not mean that the crisis is behind us or that our system will not be overwhelmed in the coming weeks or months. If we would have ignored the advice of public health when the virus arrive our number of cases and hospitalizations would have skyrocketed and we would be digging mass graves like they are in New York City right now.
COVID19 is highly contagious and it will eventually infect a large percentage of the population. The goal of social distancing is to flatten the curve so that people who become ill can work their way through a functioning healthcare system with adequate resources rather than having everyone get sick at the same time which would overwhelm the system. Public health authorities are attempting to manage the rate at which the infection spreads so that we can keep the number of sick people under our maximum capacity.
Social Distancing Will Eventually Be Relaxed
Since pubic health agencies are successfully managing the rate at which the infection is spreading. When people have been isolated the number of new cases drops. As the number of cases goes down social distancing measures can be gradually relaxed. More workplaces will be added to the list of essential services and hopefully we will be able to gather in small groups sometime in the next few weeks.
Widespread Testing Will Be a Game Changer
At the moment, we have nowhere near the capacity to test the entire population for the virus or for the antibodies. Even people who have all the symptoms are being refused tests as the healthcare system is prioritizing the most venerable. Doctors say that the chances are that people who have been infected will develop immunity to the virus. For how long and to what degree remains to be seen. This is a brand new virus that science has not had time to fully analyze and study. Many scientists are working on developing quick and inexpensive tests that would speed up the process. Health Canada approved its first rapid test kit this week.
Once we are able to test the population, we will be able to see how many people have contracted the virus and developed immunity. If we are lucky, a large portion of the population will have contracted the virus will little or no symptoms. This will enable cured individuals to go back into the community and the workforce without risking the propagation of the virus.
Saving Lives Matters
I have seen some right-wing commentators and politicians suggest that we should go back to business as usual regardless of the consequences. They say that we should accept the loss of lives of venerable people for the good of the economy. I completely disagree with this assertion. Lives are priceless. We should do everything we can to protect venerable members of our society.
Pandemics Are Natural and to Be Expected
Pandemics are natural occurrences and are to be expected, especially with the level of globalization that the planet is engaged in. The size of the human and animal populations and the speed of resource consumption is rapidly approaching and exceeding the carrying capacity of the planet. This pandemic situation was predictable. It happened 100 years ago when influenza killed millions of people around the globe. We need to make sure we are prepared for these situations in the future and we should rethink our relationship with globalization, excessive air travel and should reinvest in self-sufficiency, local supply chains and community agriculture. We should also rethink our relationship with animal agriculture; eating fewer animal products would reduce the livestock population and the risks of such pandemics as viruses which often originate in animals before transferring to humans.
In collusion even though social distancing measures can be unpleasant, they are necessary under the circumstances. They will not last forever. It’s a temporary situation. While there are certainly things that I would do differently, both the federal and provincial governments are doing a good job overall at addressing the situation. The proof? Our hospitals are not overflowing and the death toll so far has been far less than it has been in other countries.
Let’s keep up the good work and we will get through this together.
Ça va bien aller 🙂
Alex Tyrrell B.Sc. Env.
Leader of the Green Party of Québec