BC is re-opening in stages based upon the percentage of the population who have had first doses of the “vaccine” (I use quotes as it is not at all obvious that the mRNA injections are vaccines in the traditional sense of that term. This is not a knock, rather it is an indication that some caution is warrented.) Indoor dining started lasst night, the mandatory masks indoors in public order is expected to end July 1, travel restrictions are being eased are are rules about gatherings.
The COVID numbers are dropping with only 289 new “cases” (ie. positive test results) in the province yesterday. Only 6 on Vancouver Island where I live. Hospitalizations, cases in the ICU and deaths are all down.
These improvements are being credited to the vaccine despite the fact that only a tiny percentage of British Columbians (less than 5%) have had the required two doses. Arguably, a single dose strategy, while it does not confer 100% protection, is good enough to bend the infection curve. [The past month of warming, sunny, weather might have had something to do with this as it did last year when there were no vaccinations and COVID virtually disappeared.)
Predictably there are plenty of people on Twitter and in the MSM who are worried that this is too soon. There is an active claque who want COVID-Zero before even thinking of re-opening. Against that view are people looking at states in the US like Texas and Florida which are wide open and back in business.
Politically, and a good deal of the response to COVID is political, public acceptence of restrictions has been eroding quickly. The vaccinated can see no reason not to get on with their lives, the hesitant and outright rejectionists, are looking at falling case numbers and assessing their own risk more aggressively.
For restrictions to work there has to be public buy-in. Back in March 2020, when COVID was new and terrifying, restrictions simply structured the response of a public already staying at home and avoiding other people. As we understood the virus better, realized that it was far from lethal for a large part of the population and began to understand how it was transmitted, people were more willing to lead semi-normal lives. (This was particularily true for people who had been keeping up with the rapidly changing “science”. Knowing that outdoor transmission was extremely unlikely was useful, knowing that the virus was only very, very rarely transmitted by contact with inanimate objects was useful. Taking onboard the fact that the virus was airborne was both worrying and actionable.)
“The jab” simply accelerated the return to a more normal life. People who had even a single shot were less afraid. And the public was more than able to recognize that if the jab worked the need for restrictions and mask mandates faded. Otherwise, what was the point of the jab?
You do not have to presume a conspiracy to note that a great deal of the public COVID reaction was grounded in fear rather than fact. The public at large seemed to believe that the virus was deadlier than it is and more infectious than it has turned out to be. Terrified the public wanted lockdowns, masks, business closures and travel restrictions. Once that fear began to fade because of falling “case” numbers and rising jab rates the public support for restrictions began to slip.
The BC Government recognized that the fear was over. Re-opening was going to happen whether the government permitted it or not. The official “re-opening plan” is largely a recognition of this reality rather than a public health document.
Victoria Day began as a celebration of Queen Victoria’s birthday and an even louder celebration of the British Empire and Canada’s place within it. Bands, patriotic addresses, dances and teas were held in gratitude for Canada’s essential Britishness. The long Victorian era of Peace, Order and Good Government, the old flag and the old Queen underpinned the astonishing rigor with which Canada was first settled and then made into an economic powerhouse.
Underlying all that was a sense that the government, at a federal and provincial level had the peace and prosperity of Canadians as its singular priority. While there were better and worse politicians, the apparatus of state, of the Courts, of the military, of the schools and universities was dominated by men who aspired to public service for mainly honourable reasons. If a man sufficiently distinguished himself in the public’s service and kept his personal life free of scandal, he might, in time, expect a knighthood or at least a CBE.
The thing that was striking about this WASP ascendency was just how capable it was. Railways were built, banks founded, canals dug, mines and mills tore wealth from the hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness. Ranches and wheat farms, vast fisheries, and, eventually, steel mills and implement manufacturers and a host of other factories were concieved of and executed by these men.
For the modern sensibility the fact they were all men, all white, almost all – to one degree or another – Protestant is more than a little problematic. They were undoubtably racist, certainly sexist and not at all interested in being “inclusive”. But that took nothing away from their general competence and overall trustworthiness. They would debate particular policies from tarriffs to banking regulation to immigration to relations with “the Mother Country” and the rather doubtful Americans; but they framed their debates in terms of what was best for Canada. They certainly did not always “get it right” but it was not for want of trying or good will.
A great deal has changed in Canada since our Victorian gentlemen first celebrated their Queen’s birthday. Massive, non-British immigration, the political awakening of French Canada, two world wars, the end of the British Empire, votes for women, communications, transportation and medical revolutions: really, the invention of the modern world.
The idea that Canada is for every Canadian and should not be run by an male Anglo elite began its march through the institutions during Pierre Trudeau’s tenure. The visible symbols of the monarchy, the flag, the coat of arms on the mailboxes, God Save the Queen as a second national anthemn, Dominion Day all were replaced or simply forgotten.
A brighter, less traditional, Canada with a logo for a flag, community mailboxes, a national anthemn with constantly changing words and “Canada Day” replaced the dated echos of an Empire which no longer ruled the waves. More fundamentally, Trudeau with his brilliant Chief Clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Pitfield, set about to replace the old ways of governing Canada.
The clubish conception of government by a vetted, trusted, mandrainate of gentlemen who had been similarly educated, had often served in the military and who were, by the standards of their peers, “sound” was replaced with a meritocratic, competitive, civil service designed to explicitly include French Canadians and women from the outset. The old system of regionally based political leadership was replaced with a Prime Minister’s Office which bypassed those regional potentates and dealt directly with the Premiers and, more importantly, with now increasingly professionalized provincial public services.
This transformation of Canadian governance was cemented with the Elections Act which formallized the power of a recognized party leader to authorize (or not) candidates running for that party and, of course, by the adoption of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Elections Act changes eliminated competing centers of political power within political parties at the federal level. The Charter gave a structure to arguments about personal versus governmental rights and powers.
From the Trudeau/Pitfield perspective the great stumbling blocks to modernizing Canada were the old fashioned, decentralized, mechanisms of the 19th century. The whole idea of a federal cabinet minister being power in his own right or a provincial premier defying Ottawa was contrary to the centralizing tendancies of the modern managerial/bureaucratic state. The Elections Act centralized political power in the hands of the party leader, the Charter was more subtle. Here power was, apparently, given to individual Canadian citizens but that power could be used to assert rights against both the federal and provincial levels of government.
This past 18 months we have had the opportunity to see how well the new system works under stress. Frankly, I am deeply unimpressed.
One thing you could count on with the pre-Trudeau establishment was a level of individual competence. Influential Cabinet Ministers and senior civil servants were not the products of political accident or random encounters at college. You did not get close to power without a resume of accomplishment. This is, rather obviously, no longer the case.
More importantly, the old guard regarded character as important as educational accomplishment or experience. People who lied, pretended to know more than they did, or were otherwise less than honest – the word “sharp” was not one you wanted said about you – made very little progress politically or within the public service. It was informal but it was effective. (It was also, by intention, exclusionary.)
The performance of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Ministers directly responsible for Canada’s COVID reponse at the federal level has been pathetic. At no point has the PM effectively taken charge. At no point has the public health advice been anything but lame and confused. We may have achieved diversity and inclusion in our federal Cabinet but it has come at the cost of competence.
The provinces have been little better. The patchwork quilt of lockdowns, school closings, travel restrictions, mask mandates, strangely prioritized vaccination regimes and the abandonment of the elderly in long term care facilities all suggest that the provincial public health officials and the politicians they advise have no clue what to do.
The use of Emergency Orders to impose restrictions which are constitutionally impugnable is the exercise of power without any real responsibility. (The fact that when these restrictions are constitutionally challenged the cases are, for the most part, quietly dropped by the Crown says a great deal. The fact that at no point has any level of government presented evidence going to the question of “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society” is even more telling.)
The crusty old Victorians and their successors, swept away by Trudeau pere‘s re-invention of Canada, would, I suspect, have done at least as well as our woke technocrats. Likely better as they would have looked past “the models” and noticed that the elderly were dying in droves. Addressing that problem early and effectively could have kept the COVID death numbers down. So would closing the borders.
I can’t imagine that a Mackenzie King or a C.D. Howe would have pinned all hope on an undiscovered vaccine without also assigning “top men” to investigating treatment protocols. Nor would there have been any shilly shallying about lockdowns: either there would have been a strict lockdown or none at all.
May 24th has become the weekend to open up the cottage, perhaps display a Canadian flag and have several Canadian beers. It is no longer a celebration of Queen Victoria or Canada’s British heritage. It would be lovely to think we are abandoning the old traditions because the modern world is a great deal better. But it isn’t.
To no one’s great surprise, the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths are trending down in BC. Just like they did last Spring.
Now this Spring we have COVID vaccines and they are being credited with, if not stopping transmission (apparently they don’t stop it, they “reduce” it), at least reducing the severity of the disease in the vaccinated. Which is a good thing but, for the vast majority of healthy, non-elderly, people COVID has not been a very severe disease.
BC has not had strict lock downs. We’ve been encouraged to stay at home and indoor dining and drinking are banned. Masks are mandatory indoors in public spaces. But, generally, life has gone on largely unaffected by government rules.
At the moment, the one thing which would put an end to COVID in BC would be a decent run of warm weather. Because, realistically, for all the hysteria, COVID is an upper respiratory virus and it seems to behave the way such viruses do.
[It is interesting to note that the Spanish Flu came in waves with the second the most deadly. It then “disappeared”. There was no vaccine and no “cure”. Social distancing and masking as well as the prohibition of large gatherings were all implemented in various locations with varying success. In many instances, the public health measures were implemented after the second deadly wave was in decline.)
It is beginning to dawn on people that the general public health response to COVID at the federal and provincial levels – indeed at the world level – was weak if not actually destructive. We’re realizing that, on the data, lockdowns destroy economies but don’t seem to have much effect on the virus. We are also realizing that protecting the vunerable – particularily the elderly – blunts the effect of COVID. The realization that COVID is airborne and that infection from surface contact is rare should have come much earlier in the story.
The other response which needs scrutiny is the decision to focus on vaccination to the exclusion of treatment. Without going into the relative virtues of ivermectin or HCQ as treatments early in the course of an infection, it is astonishing that there was not a concerted effort to test treatments and develope treatments in parallel with the development of the vaccines. You don’t have to be a conspiracist to note that COVID treatment options got short shift.
So, here’s hoping that as Spring warms COVID wanes.
A couple of detailed BC COVID reports leaked to the Vancouver Sun last week. They were interesting in themselves – I just moved from 0% positivity rate North Saanich to .1-1% positivity rate Oak Bay – but they bring up the question of how much information should be given to the public and how much, if any, withheld? And for what reasons?
My own view is that it all should be released as soon as it is compiled so I can make informed decisions as to my relative level of risk and my behaviour in the face of such risk. Against that view are a variety of arguments: granular data may compromise privacy, detailed demographic data could lead to racial discrimination, data on co-morbidities might give people a false confidence (“I’m not fat so COVID is not a problem for me.”)
However, underlying the decision not to fully disclose is the public health agenda of compliance. In BC, unlike Ontario and Quebec, we do not have mandatory stay at home orders. Our public health response has been to suggest limiting contacts, eliminating a lot of indoor activities, mandating masks and asking people to limit travel to essential purposes. Whether this has worked better than the more restrictive lockdowns in other provinces is an open question.
For the BC light handed approach to work there has to be a good deal of voluntary compliance with the various measures suggested. Generally there has been, but as the vaccination program gains traction and Spring brings a welcome decline in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, the logic of compliance is beginning to break down.
Having better, more granular, information would, I suspect, actually improve public health outcomes. We are going to open up in any event eventually; have good information will let each person assess his or her relative risk. Vaccinated in Oak Bay? You’re golden. In South Surrey? It would be wise to maintain precautions until a really significant percentage of the population is vaccinated.
In the early stages of the COVID problem there was a great deal of uncertainty. We were given advice in good faith which turned out to be wrong. COVID is almost never transmitted by surface contact so the sanitary theatre and gloves were largely a waste of time. However, COVID is airborne which means that ventilation is critical. Social distancing and masks have turned out to be of limited use in stopping the spread but may have some utility in “hot spots”. There are all sorts of pieces of information like this which are useful to individuals trying to reduce their own risk.
At the beginning the messaging was that “we are all in this together” and that messaging worked. But, in actual fact, we now know that some populations and demographics have much higher risks. Pinpointing those populations and demographics – the poor and the brown – means that vaccination doses can be targetted while shortages persist. (And, frankly, for those vunerable populations, the “two dose right on time” regime makes a lot of sense. Even at the expense of us Oak Baysians having to wait a bit longer.)
Most of all, giving complete information will tend to increase the public’s trust in the public health officials and the politicians who direct them. At this point, with the end of the crisis (but likely not COVID itself) in sight, that public trust is a critical factor in defeating the virus.