We recently marked the anniversary of the COVID-19 confinements that were only supposed to last for only a few weeks.
In many ways, fear became the pandemic. Different people drive the COVID-19 fear, but its principal generators are statisticians and the medical bureaucrats – the experts ‘advising’ the politicians, who in turn display appearances of virtue, claiming to save lives.
In competing for our attention, the media are a gigantic amplifier of COVID-19 fear.
Along with lifesaving claims, Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, has finally admitted to presiding over a massive failure in protecting the most vulnerable, who constitute the majority of the dead.
Camouflaging the failure, authorities confine and restrict us the more with the pretense of protecting us.
Yet the vulnerable keep dying and those with much lower risk are confined in domestic violence situations, forcibly unemployed, forced to forgo treatments for chronic illnesses, forced to watch their business crash and their savings vapourize.
It has taken a year for the public health officer Tam to admit failure, but she has manifested no desire to correct or reverse course.
Neither the admission of failure nor the absence of solutions (other than to hope for vaccination) have stopped the fear wagon that sent us here a year ago. Instead, in time for the anniversary, fresh alarmist calls give more horsepower to the wagon. Experts are calling for greater lockdowns, more restrictive and oppressive. And they are doing so in language that instils even more fear.
For what could be more frightful than a pandemic?
The week before the anniversary of the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring the COVID-19 pandemic, a medical bureaucrat in central Canada ominously heralded a brand new source of fear, stating on Feb. 8: “Today we are in a … transition to a new pandemic.” Eileen de Villa is Toronto’s medical officer of health and an adjunct at the University of Toronto. She was commenting on statistical modelling crafted at York University.
The model would have us believe that Toronto alone could see “15,865 deaths by May” if SARS-CoV-2, propelled by new variants, reached an infection rate of 20 per cent. For perspective, that would amount to over 75 per cent of all COVID-19-related deaths so far recorded in Canada.
Whatever the fantastic predictions of a model, the health officer of a single city, even if it is Toronto, has zero authority to declare a new pandemic. A pandemic is a global event, not an outbreak inside a city, a province or even a country. Toronto’s medical officer of health’s proclamation constitutes an exaggeration and an unseemly self-anointing with immense authority.
How do we take her seriously when she makes planet-size pronouncements?
It took only three days for a University of Toronto colleague to outdo the medical officer of health’s ridiculous fear-mongering declaration. Dr. Peter Juni, the science director of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, declared that the second pandemic had arrived.
Jurisdictionally, he has even less medical authority than the medical officer of health but that didn’t temper him from saying more outrageous and terrifying things. According to him, the arrival of a “new pandemic,” identified with B.1.1.7, the British strand, should be distinguished from “the traditional pandemic” that originated in Wuhan, China.
The absurd, puzzling and disorienting is also scary; his advisory table reported: “exponential growth” (as if viruses advance in any other way) driving a “third wave” of COVID-19 that Juni described in less than scientific terms as “a pandemic within a pandemic.” (Ironically, the expression appeared in September 2020 in the New England Journal of Medicine to describe the domestic abuse spiked by the lockdowns that he recommends.)
Peddling the fear of a second pandemic obscures the reality that B.1.1.7 advanced inside the second lockdown that has not even fully ended. Juni doesn’t wonder if lockdowns have failed. Instead, he calls for even “firmer” lockdowns, by which he means more draconian measures that he refers to as “the right thing.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he “always respects” and will do what the medical experts say. But Juni offers comfort: “If this works out well with the vaccines … it will be the last time that we do that. There won’t be any more lockdowns.”
Who can maintain faith in lockdown promises and medical bureaucrats when we consider the abominable failure in protecting the most vulnerable during two separate viral waves, two rounds of harmful lockdowns and curfews that keep expanding and extending, the draconian arrests and fines, the incalculable hurt of unintended health, social and economic consequences, and the ongoing botched vaccination efforts?
Let’s now add, more than a year into it, the prideful flights of fancy of local bureaucrats declaring newer and scarier pandemics.
Marco Navarro-Génie is a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and president of the Haultain Research Institute. He is co-author, with Barry Cooper, of COVID-19: The Politics of a Pandemic Moral Panic (2020).