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Nearly six weeks into a crisis that has brought about the most extreme shutdown of the economy and curtailment of civil liberties in most people’s living memory, and governments have still not released the data and assumptions on which their fear-inducing COVID-19 predictions are based. Models based on speculation and insufficiently-cited sources, even when combined with good intentions, should not form the basis of public policy, which must comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Alberta government’s inaccurate predictions about COVID-19 hospitalizations are just one example of how public policy is based more on fear than on facts. On April 8, when our society and economy had already locked down, the government predicted there would be roughly 340 “probable” COVID-19 hospitalizations by April 21, in less than two weeks’ time.
This estimate of 340 was the low or minimal prediction. As of April 21, there were only 68 people in hospital due to contracting COVID-19. While no one expects disease predictions to be entirely accurate, the low end of this model overestimates the problem by 500 percent. Was this model based primarily on facts, or on fear and speculation?
Like other health ministers, Alberta’s Tyler Shandro has not publicly released the sources, documents, data and assumptions that his government is relying on when making predictions about COVID-19 deaths, hospitalization rates, and available spaces in hospitals.
Governments won’t say whether their COVID-19 predictions were built using data collected during past pandemics, or if yes, what data was used, and in what way. Government won’t divulge what statistical theories or predictive approaches were used to construct the COVID-19 predictions that are used to justify the lockdown. The public doesn’t know to what extent governments rely, in part or in whole, on the work of other national or international organizations, or which ones.
Inaccurate predictions don’t matter much when applied to the weather, or who will win a hockey game, or which horse is fastest. But when predictions form the basis of government policies to force millions of Canadians into self-isolation, unemployment, bankruptcy or poverty, or maybe all of the above, predictions must be based on something better than tea leaves. When politicians refuse to explain specifically what facts and assumptions their predictions are based on, citizens have cause to worry.
Instead of revealing the facts and data on which their predictions are based, some politicians have compared COVID-19 to the Spanish Flu, which killed between 20 and 50 million young adults (ages 20-40) around the world in 1918-20. Premier Jason Kenney has publicly compared COVID-19 to the Spanish Flu at least twice, and his United Conservative Party MLAs reference the Spanish Flu in a form letter sent to constituents.
At the time of writing this column, the Alberta government has stated that 45 of the 66 COVID-19 deaths (68 percent) in Alberta occurred amongst those over 80, and 95 percent of COVID-19 deaths occurred amongst people over 60. It appears that the goal of saving the lives of vulnerable Albertans, which serves as the justification for the government’s lockdown of society and the economy, is not being achieved.
The government’s violations of our Charter freedoms to move, travel, associate, assemble and practice one’s faith are causing grave harm to the health and lives of citizens. Self-isolation, unemployment, bankruptcy and poverty will necessarily result in more depression, anxiety, alcoholism, drug overdoses, spousal abuse, child abuse, mental illness and suicides. Politicians won’t explain how many patients will suffer harm or death because of cancelled surgeries and half-closed hospitals.
They have not thought about the number of isolated seniors, deprived of social contact, who are no longer being assisted by friends and family who would otherwise take these vulnerable citizens to their doctor, or to the emergency unit. Politicians haven’t calculated the impact of denying people access to physiotherapists, massage therapists, optometrists, chiropractors, osteopaths, podiatrists and dentists.
Citizens have a right to access the entirety of literature, documentation, evidence and methods which undergird the COVID-19 predictions of our federal and provincial governments. The onus is on the government to justify its curtailment of civil liberties, even when many citizens support freedom-restricting measures. To ask that governments be open and transparent, and continue to meet that onus as facts on the ground continue to change, is a modest request. The continued support of the citizenry depends on it.