AVOIDING THE APOCALYPSE (PART II)

Guest Post by Ron Penney

The
Apocalypse is Coming

Two
weeks ago I wrote a guest blog, Avoiding the Apocalypse, in which I noted that
at every step of the way our public health response has been slow and that as a
result, we may well have squandered the advantage we have as a result of our
geography. As the song goes, with respect to the island of Newfoundland, “thank
God we’re surrounded by water.” And, of course Labrador is also very remote
from the rest of the continent.

In
addition, I pointed out that our isolation meant that we were going to be one
of the last jurisdictions to have cases. This result is that we had the
advantage of learning from the experiences in other places and could act
accordingly.
We
have missed that opportunity and, as a result, we are into the pandemic big
time. More cases than New Brunswick.

A
couple of examples of missed opportunities:
I
had understood that returning passengers from either the rest of Canada or
outside Canada were to be given a mandatory self isolation order and their
contact information recorded, so random monitoring could encourage adherence.
I
now learn from returning passengers I know, that this is not the case. What is
happening in St. John’s is that returning passengers are offered a brochure and
no contact information is taken. This is a farce.
How’s
hard can it be to organize giving out a self-isolation order and taking contact
information? We have a small army of underemployed public servants, most of
whom are bored to tears at home, who I suspect would only be too happy to do
their part to help mitigate the pandemic.
We
know for sure that returning passengers pose the greatest risk and we have
utterly failed to take that risk seriously and to take steps to mitigate it.
There
are still many planes landing at the airport disgorging thousands of passengers
daily, who are coming from jurisdictions with a lot more cases than we have.
They no doubt do their best to practice social distance at the airports but
that necessarily breaks down once they enter the aircraft and are crammed
together for several hours. Those flights are petri dishes for the virus.
Minister of Health, Dr. John Haggie

It
appears that the Caul’s funeral home cluster, by far the largest portion of the
cases so far, originated from a returning passenger. The Chief Medical Officer
of Heath has made the point that the self isolation advisory took place between
the first and second visits of the index patient to the funeral home and that
the person didn’t breach an “order”. But the fact is that had the person not
attended the second visitation there would have likely been fewer cases. More
importantly, there was no “order” in place at that time. It was merely advice
without the force of law. It was only well after that incident that a mandatory
order was issued, again too late.

In
addition, as one if my fellow quest bloggers has noted, many unessential construction,
mining and industrial activities are still continuing. For example, if there is
a serious outbreak in Labrador West, there is no capacity to handle it. Other
provinces have been much more aggressive.
Most
significantly, we still haven’t issued a stay at home order, unlike the United
States, where over 90% of their citizens are under such orders. This from the
land of the free. We continue to rely on voluntary compliance, which doesn’t
work. We need to make it, as well social distancing, a legal requirement.
Our
national government’s response has been equally anemic, so we aren’t alone. For
example, only in recent days has the Quarantine Act been invoked to require
that returning passengers practice self isolation.



Related:
COVID-19: AVOIDING THE APOCALYPSE by Ron Penney
What
we desperately needed was a national response, requiring social distancing and
mandating citizens to stay at home, but instead we have a patchwork of
initiatives throughout the country. And we now know where that has gotten us.
We
are now at the stage that social distancing has nearly reached its limits,
subject to the initiatives I have outlined above,  and it’s now becoming the responsibility of
our acute care system. The plans presented so far by Eastern Health are
impressive, but we need to see the provincial modeling, if there is such a
thing, to assess the level of preparedness. Surely we must have some public
health experts amongst the 285 full-rime faculty members at the Medical School,
but not a peep from any of them if we do.
The
biggest area of risk is our long term care homes, both public and private, and
hopefully our hesitancy to ban visitors quickly enough won’t backfire on us. We
know from the experiences in other jurisdictions what will happen should the
virus strike.
My
public health experts also tell me that we aren’t doing enough testing so we
better know the extent of the virus in the community.
Turning
to the other immediate effect of the pandemic, we now are starting to see the
effects of the pandemic on our already dismal fiscal situation and declining
economy.
The
federal government has had to step in to support our borrowings. No doubt the
Province has projections of what our fiscal status is and where it is likely
heading. We need to see them no matter how shocking they are.
What
the pandemic has done is to accelerate what was going to occur a few years
later on because of our failure to control our expenditures in the face of
declining revenues.
Until
this catastrophe happened, we still had the highest per capita revenues in the
country, which is why we weren’t entitled to equalization, notwithstanding the
recent musings of the Minister of Finance.
And
on top of all that we have yet to feel the impacts of the competition of
Muskrat Falls when we will have to find close to a billion dollars a year to
keep rates affordable and to ensure the reliability of the electricity system
by keeping Holyrood, or its replacement, on standby. I suspect we will have to
take our chances on Muskrat Falls reliability given our fiscal situation.
Not
a pretty picture, but we need to start now to think about the future and how we
get our fiscal house in order once this ends, after borrowing many more
billions of dollars to keep us afloat.
And
we need to start to work together to restore and improve our economy before
many tens of thousands of us vote with our feet and abandon the place for good.
Now
is the time to put together a voluntary task force to start the task of
renewing our economy when the pandemic ends. There are lots of good people
around with time on their hands who would like to contribute. Give them the
opportunity.
And
once this is over we need our national government to be partners with us as we
face those immense problems, without losing our independence yet again.
________________________________

Editor’s Note: Starting today, the commentary function on this Blog is no longer available. I wish to thank all readers who have enjoyed sharing their views on this Blog.

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