Guest Post by PlanetNL
Courting Disaster With Half-Measured Hypocrisy Against COVID-19
province has suffered plenty from political failure in the past decade
plus. We don’t need COVID-19 to turn out
to be the next major disaster but the present administration seems, as usual,
unable to calculate the risks. The issue
is that the necessity for physical distancing and the shelter-in-place concept
needs a very high rate of participation to succeed but the government has left
a mile-wide loophole for “essential” businesses to keep operating that is
placing many communities and the entire province at great risk.
past week has seen a considerable spike in positive cases in the province,
across Canada and around the world. Social
or physical distancing, frequently mandated and enforced, has been the
consensus best measure for flattening the curve and hopefully snuffing the
virus out or at least pushing the number of hospitalization cases down to a
those with an hour to spare who are looking for a great piece of analysis on
how this works, check out this substantial piece of work combining the evidence
of numerous global research efforts prepared by Tomas Pueyo titled “Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance, What the Next 18 Months Can Look Like, if Leaders Buy Us Time” published on March
For those with 5 minutes, look at this story from
the Australian Broadcasting Corporation website published on March 25 titled “Data Shows Coronavirus Can Only Be Controlled if 8 out of 10 Australians Stay Home.” The study cited indicates 90% would shorten
the period of time needed in isolation but it demonstratively warned that falling
to 70% participation would result in exponential growth of infection. 70% would be a dismal failure.
physical distancing requirements. On
Saturday, Dr. Fitzgerald made a really big deal of the first definite case of
community transmission and pointed straight to the necessity for distancing. Moments later, Premier Ball stated that our
province has the highest rate of infection in the country, second only to Quebec.
Government even issued an amber alert style text to everyone at 4pm for out of
province travellers to completely isolate for 14 days.
Their message is not difficult to comprehend but
it does not reconcile with their policies.
The science is clearly pointing toward needing massive compliance with strict isolation
practices such as the Australian study recommending at least 80% of the
population should stay at home, however, our
administration is allowing far too many businesses to operate under the guise
of being “essential” and as a result the percentage of people truly practicing
effective distancing is certain to be well below 80%. In accepting the assumption that each and
every one of those businesses are able to implement safe work practices that
effectively mitigate the virus hazard is a terrible technicolour dream for our local
leaders to be having in what may be the greatest period of social crisis many
of us may ever experience. Their moral hazard runs the high risk of
for irregular encounters with people. For someone who is isolating but
has to go to a grocery store or pharmacy or has other brief encounters just a
few times per week, a few seconds or minutes at a time, the risk of
transmission should indeed be greatly reduced. However, for those people
who have to work together all day long, 5 days a week, particularly in very
physically demanding jobs, or where there are unavoidable common areas, any
assumption that virus transmission is highly unlikely seems stunningly unfounded.
There is substantial activity ongoing within the
province that falls into this latter category. They aren’t in the
business of building ventilators or making N95 masks either which would certainly
qualify them as essential. Some of them
are actually using up tremendous supplies of those masks daily though. Our leaders are surely aware of these
valuable resources that may be very hard to get in a few short weeks when they
could be so very badly needed in the health care and first responder sectors.
The heavy industrial firms in the province have
hundreds of people gathering up on sites daily. They are making raw
materials for end products whose demand has fallen off our strange new economically
flattened earth. How essential a service is that to the public of this
province? Does their work enhance our health care sector in any way or
does it pose a major health care risk where workers may well spread the virus
among themselves, their families, the public at large and eventually among
health care workers?
Likewise, there are many commercial construction
firms all pressing on with their contracts. Are they building hospitals
or critically needed infrastructure that means the difference to saving lives
in the next few months? None that we know of.
Virtually all such activity is enabling two
major risks that will lead to failure in this province. First, there are a great number of work sites
threatening to become breakouts of virus transmission. Second, the substantial number of workers
being accommodated through the cavernous loophole definition of essential
business is keeping the numbers of people observing serious distancing and
isolation at far below the 80% level necessary for success.
community basis, not simply averaged across the entire province either.
There are several communities where there is likely tremendous hazard brewing
and the curtailment of industrial and construction activity could make a vital
The ratio is probably not being met in the St.
John’s metro area where there is the highest number of cases. Metro has
the greatest number of truly essential public service workers as well,
especially among health care and first responders who we need to do the most to
protect the public. The metro area is likely home to the greatest amount
of construction activity and plenty of sizeable industrial service shops that
when accounted for collectively may make a critical difference in reaching the
target ratio and for eliminating dangerous gatherings of people.
How about in our several industrial areas?
Corner Brook with the paper mill and its many related service businesses for
example. How long do these areas want to
roll the dice? Just before deadline to submit this article on Sunday
night, let’s give some credit to North Atlantic Refining for acting to reduce
their operating and community risk. More
need to follow in their footsteps.
In Labrador West, the situation is probably the
worst in the province as both major ironmines continue operating. Their
large direct and contractor work forces surely put the ratio far below the
target 8 out of 10. Add to that, this is a very remote area with one
small hospital that is normally taxed while providing regular services. A
community outbreak in such an isolated area would be particularly disastrous as
hospital staff and resources are in limited supply and transporting patients
out may prove very difficult if not unadvisable for patients in respiratory
development that businesses should immediately consider. In this province and across Canada those
getting COVID-19 are tending to include far more younger people than was anticipated,
in particular working age people between 30 to 60.
in the 40-49 age group and that half of those tested positive have no symptoms. The articles linked here also show evidence
that strong isolation policies work to eliminate the virus. See STUDY: YES, HALF OF CORONAVIRUS CARRIERS SHOW NO SYMPTOMS and EVERYONE IN ICELAND CAN GET TESTED FOR THE CORONAVIRUS. HERE’S HOW THE RESULTS COULD HELP ALL OF US. This information dramatically heightens the level
of risk being knowingly taken by these firms.
All working age people are definitely
at risk and the number of asymptomatic people who may be spreading the virus is
twice as high as diagnostic data may be showing.
weight on their sales contracts and the fear of costly penalties that might
arise if they choose to implement a production shutdown. All of these contracts typically contain a Force
Majeure clause that would remove their liability for penalties IF AND WHEN an
authority having jurisdiction demands them to cease normal operations and go
into a stand down.
operations, the legal consequence could be enormous in cost and years of
litigation. It’s likely these same firms are starting to see they are
walking a very high-risk tightrope balancing the danger of the virus vs the
cost of trying to meet their contractual obligations. Many senior
managers may be paralyzed with fear and would prefer a clear and firm directive
from government to shut down as this would at least give them the ability to
claim Force Majeure on their contracts rather than risk the wrath of their
throw in the towel, it will be making a cardinal mistake of waiting too
long. It’s high time Government orders
the shut down that is needed to protect more workers, protect the remainder of
the public and even to protect businesses from their own procrastination. By delaying the order, Government is
endandering public health and potentially endangering the future of some of
these firms if they should suffer an outbreak.
decision. Either they are all in and
will drastically amend the definition of essential business or they are committed
to wilful blindness by continuing the way it is. There is no safe middle ground. What will it be? Can they finally see the risk and come to the
correct conclusion today?
* Following submission of this piece, the North Atlantic Refinery at Come By
Chance announced that the facility will be
shutting down while officials deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.