Canada has now entered into the delay phase of its pandemic response to COVID-19.
The country—and indeed a large swath of the globe—has been hampered in its planning by the reluctance of the World Health Organization and national agencies like the Public Health Agency of Canada in acknowledging what was readily apparent to anyone paying attention: that COVID-19 had morphed into a pandemic a week ago or longer.
The suspension of the NBA and the NHL and the report of actor Tom Hanks’ infection seem to have awakened policy makers to the severity of the situation.
It is of course pathetic that this was the spark required to kick things into gear.
In Canada, the tepid response has trickled down to provinces and regions.
And while some areas of the world have taken appropriately drastic measures—think China—the response has been ridiculous in others.
Take my province, Manitoba.
Inexplicably (it would be laughable if lives weren’t at stake, and—let’s make no mistake—they are) Manitoba’s education minister, Kelvin Goertzen, has declared that schools will be shuttered—but not until March 23. This downright bizarre tactic is somewhat inconceivable.
I guess we will give the kids a week to get infected and then lock them down in their homes with their families so that entire households get sick with COVID-19.
And due to the absolutely bungled response south of the border, there is almost certainly a smouldering brush fire that will spread across into Canada.
The epidemiological curve—the visual tool to map the progression of an outbreak—may be flattening, meaning that it will be less intense, but will also likely mean that the pandemic will be with us longer.
Knowledge about COVID-19 continues to evolve, but our understanding remains in its infancy. We are finding out some alarming features, such as the possibility that transmission might be able to occur between individuals who show no symptoms.
If that is in fact the case, this takes away a critical screening tool—identifying those with symptoms and separating them from the asymptomatic population.
The above screening protocol nevertheless continues to be used widely throughout our country.
That perhaps should not be surprising. Only days ago, health care workers were still taking travel histories from patients, identifying who had travelled to “hot spots” such as Iran, Italy, South Korea and China.
This was well after the fact that COVID-19 had gone global and that community transmission (as opposed to contracting the virus in another country) had occurred in many countries
Looking ahead, as we emerge from the current debacle we should take a hard look at what we got right and what we got wrong.
In the post-mortem evaluation—morbid pun intended—we need to take stock of the fact that professional sports leagues and rom-com actors shouldn’t be the agents leading public health policy.
Public health infrastructure and decision-making are relatively simple and economically-viable measures. It would be prudent to not neglect them.
In the wake of COVID-19, it should be apparent that this is the case.
Just take a look at free-falling stock markets around the world. COVID-19 is turning out to be very costly—both in terms of money and lives.