Hot Takes – Feb 22, 2021

My take on some of today's hottest headlines.

1.     What can cities learn from Kingston’s COVID-19 response?  Nothing, it appears. Kingston was early to mandate masks in public – something that makes sense for the same reason you teach your kids to cover their mouths when they cough. The less that comes spraying out of your public-facing orifices, the better – pandemic or no pandemic. Other than that, it appears Kingston’s most brilliant strategy was good fortune.

Kingston’s biggest employers are governments, universities, prisons and tourism. In the case of the first three – many people were able to work from home, or to furlough with little or no income loss (most public servants have maintained their salaries and benefits even if they’re not working.) This allowed them to remain at home, without having to find end-runs around the rules to feed their families. In the case of tourism – it dried up almost entirely with a closed border and stay-at-home orders elsewhere. Traffic into Kingston has been sparse. The community has few large, dense employers with factories, processing plants, etc. that require essential workers to labour shoulder-to-shoulder as is the case in Brampton, the GTA epicentre of contagion (for exactly that reason).

I’m not sure what other cities can learn from Kingston’s example, beyond: be lucky.

2.     What you need to know about Trudeau’s draconian new travel restrictions. Well, for starters, they appear to be illegal. More than three weeks after the PM announced his plan to imprison travellers entering Canada – including returning citizens – for three days at their own expense, no one in the Prime Minister’s Office, the Health Minister’s Office or at the Justice Department is yet able to answer a simple question: “Is this legal? If so, under what authority?” I think that’s pretty telling.

Likewise, when asked what data was considered when making the decision to detain Canadians in hotels, rather than at home, Health Canada officials couldn’t say. They didn’t know.

3.     Quarantine jails are all for show. Effective today, travelers entering Canada must spend three days in detention at their own expense. The detention will be in a government-approved hotel and the detainee must pay all expenses themselves – “at least $2,000,” said Justin Trudeau when he first announced the plan. New details on how the process (see link above) works proves the government, once again, isn’t taking the pandemic seriously. So, why should we?

First of all, these detention centres are only for people who don’t have symptoms and who tested negative for COVID-19 on their mandatory pre-departure PCR test (required before they could board an aircraft travelling to Canada) and – in Ontario, at least – who tested negative on the “on arrival” rapid test for COVID-19. So, this is detention for people who have at least two documents proving they are not infected. Under the Quarantine Act, government-designated Screening Officers must have a reasonable grounds to believe the traveler is infected. Clearly, such reasonable grounds do not exist where the government has created detention centres specifically for people who test negative for the virus.

Second, travelers must travel from the airport to the hotel at their own expense – in their own private cars or in a taxi or limousine. Clearly, the government is not much concerned that these people are truly infectious.

Like everything else the Trudeau government does, this entire “mandatory quarantine” regime is just for show. It has nothing to do with public health or public safety.

4.     An overdose killed their son. As I wrote on Saturday, overdoses are killing more and more Canadians during the pandemic. The number of overdose deaths – already at epidemic proportions before COVID-19 – have skyrocketed. There are many reasons for this. For people living the roughest lives on our streets because they’re afraid to go to shelters, many of the safer choices for injecting street drugs are not available during lockdowns. But, more and more of the people overdosing are not street people. They’re young people like my family’s 17-year old friend who was lucky (in my mind, not his) to survive, and the loved one’s of those featured in this piece by Marcus Gee in the Globe and Mail.

For many of them, dying is not the scariest possible outcome of using questionable narcotics. Living is. Too many Canadians, struggling under the oppressive weight of endless lockdowns and facing a future of perpetual poverty, have lost all hope of a life without pain and misery. Too many foresee no possible joy on the horizon. So, why not choose a brief respite that may become a permanent peace? What, after all, do they have to lose?

5.     World’s first case of Bird Flu infection in a human. If there was ever a reason for Canada’s lackluster public health officials and the elected leaders who hide behind them to get off their asses, pull their heads out of their text books, and start living in the real world where COVID-19 is not going away, this is it. The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is here to stay. Just like the common cold, the annual flu, MERS and Swine Flu. And, it’s not the last pandemic we will face in our lifetime.

Here comes Bird Flu. Will it become a global menace? Time will tell.

Stop pretending we can eradicate COVID-19. We can’t. Stop pretending “zero deaths” is an option. It isn’t. We must learn to live in a world with more virulent coronaviruses and other pathogens that want to sicken and kill us. C’est la vie. Get over it.

We need a pandemic posture that recognizes this and uses widespread surveillance testing, ubiquitous rapid testing to screen people at critical control points, and rapid turn-around diagnostic testing. Plus rapid-build vaccines and publicly-funded isolation options so people with high-risk communicable diseases can be separated from the herd to protect the population.

Public health agencies already do surveillance testing of routing medical samples (blood, urine, swabs, etc.) to look for STIs and other communicable diseases in the population. COVID-19 and new pathogens could be added to a bolstered surveillance program. Rapid testing of people entering schools, hospitals, care facilities, processing plants, etc. should be a daily occurrence in outbreak zones. Canada should invest significantly to create the strategic capacity to develop and produce new vaccines domestically.

6.     Pandemic is no cure for stupid. Four people in #Toronto who got drunk and/or stoned then launched multiple glass bottles from a high-rise balcony have been charged with criminal offences. Rumours are they were partying in a short-stay rental condo – which would also be a municipal bylaw offence – and, almost certainly, multiple offences against provincial and municipal pandemic laws, bylaws and regulations. If these folks don’t have all the books thrown at them, then there’s no point pretending there are any pandemic rules at all.