Live Well, Do Good

Will the Pandemic Shake Canadian Complacency?

Brandon Sun, March 1, 2021 - David McConkey

A COVID cliché is that things will never be the same again. One thing that I hope changes for the better: Canadian complacency. I am thinking of our two-part complacency that revolves around the United States. The first part is our unambitious assumption that we must rely on the expertise of the U.S. The second part is our smug conceit that we are better than Americans. Hey, my fellow Canadians! Time to stop being so complacent! Out there is a big, wide world!

Canadian complacency was evident as soon as the pandemic got going. We assumed that Canada would depend on American knowledge, such as from their Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Then, as the pandemic progressed, we assumed that the Canadian health-care system would handle the pandemic better than the Americans could.

But a global pandemic is just that: global. And I hope that global reality jolts us out of our complacency.

Soon into the pandemic, we should have sensed that something was wrong with American expertise. Before reversing itself, the CDC at first told the public that wearing masks was not recommended and might even be harmful. We later learned that this advice was not to protect the health of the public, but to protect mask supplies for health-care workers. It also turned out that many American doctors were worried about this dangerous initial messaging from the CDC, but were hesitant to speak out.

The U.S. failed in other ways as well. In mid January 2020, the World Health Organization posted basic information online about making a test for the coronavirus. Scientists in Thailand had a test ready in hours. The CDC did not have a test ready for 46 days.

Of course, the story of the pandemic is still being written. But we have information now about how different countries fared in dealing with the disease during the first year. An Australian think tank, the Lowy Institute, published a COVID performance index on how 98 countries did in terms of testing, cases and deaths.

How do countries of the world rank on this report card? New Zealand is number 1. Here are the next best that make up the top ten: Vietnam, Taiwan, Thailand, Cyprus, Rwanda, Iceland, Australia, Latvia, Sri Lanka.

Wait a minute. Are those criteria the best way to evaluate countries? What about other health, social and economic costs? What about other factors – like geography, weather, culture, even luck – that might play a role? Yes! Looking at such lists and asking such questions is the point. Let’s aim to cultivate a skeptical, wide-ranging, global perspective.

I will note again a book that I found helpful for its comprehensive outlook, Apollo's Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live. The author is American physician and sociologist Nicholas Christakis. The book is on order at the Brandon Public Library.

And we must look at our own response in order to do better next time. For years, the Harper and Trudeau governments degraded our pandemic readiness. In the year before the pandemic, the Trudeau government shut down our pandemic monitoring program.

Provincial governments must be scrutinized, too. What kind of pandemic planning had they done beforehand? And as some observers are asking, when the pandemic began, did provinces throw out the plans they already had and decide instead to just wing it?

And there will be much more to learn as more research is done. There are also new developments like the emergence of variants of the virus and the roll out of rapid-testing and vaccination programs. And then there are anti-vaxxer conspiracy theories. In the U.S., only one-third of eligible nursing-home workers are choosing to get vaccinated.

Let’s return to the Lowy list of country performances in dealing with the pandemic. Here are the countries that number 11 to 20: Estonia, Uruguay, Singapore, Malta, Togo, Malaysia, Finland, Norway, Lithuania, South Korea. OK, that makes 20 countries that Canada might learn from in dealing with a pandemic.

Oh, by the way, where is Canada on the list of pandemic performance? We are 61. Yes, we should be humbled, but we can be resolved to learn and to do better in the future. But we must avoid taking the lazy approach by simply comparing ourselves with the United States. To do better than the Americans sets the bar way too low. Where does the U.S. rank? The U.S. is at 94, fifth from the bottom.

The post-pandemic time could be a vibrant one of learning and discovery. We Canadians don’t have to be complacent. We don’t have to look only at the U.S. We have a whole wide world to explore.

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See also:

Here's an Idea: Raise Our Taxes to Pay for Pandemic

Our Leaders Must Tell Us the Truth About the Pandemic

A Local Journal of the 1918 Flu

The Role for Today’s Armchair Epidemiologists

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