In January, one of us warned that unless the Canadian government were to implement strict quarantine measures and travel restrictions with haste, COVID-19 would overwhelm the country. Instead of acting prudently to prevent suffering, the government has allowed over 3,000 people to become infected with the novel coronavirus, and 35 have died.
Across the nation, businesses are now closed, hundreds of thousands are unemployed, and overworked hospital staffs see a crisis looming. Throughout this, Canadian officials have refused to heed the advice of honest scientists and frontline medical workers, and have instead responded in a reactive and diffident manner.
Provincial and federal governments have stubbornly refused to either understand the basic math or communicate this to Canadians. An epidemic’s initial stages often follow an exponential growth pattern, which starts with a handful of cases, and then rapidly and radically escalates into thousands.
Canada’s first case was confirmed on January 25th. As of today, this has increased to 3,385 cases. According to up-to-date mathematical predictions, which we detail in a scientific pre-print, Canada's number of cases will increase to 17,755 by April 1st: with a best-case scenario of 9,184, and a worst case of 34,324. These forecasts may seem shocking, but they follow the same path as countries like Italy.
To their credit, federal and provincial governments have recently enacted stringent measures which may curb the spread of COVID-19. However, a looming problem is the lack of test kits: Canada will soon lag behind the United States in testing, since test kits are now being rationed to only healthcare workers and those hospitalized with severe symptoms. This is in contrast to South Korea, which has successfully tested broad swathes of its population and aggressively traced contacts, in order to bring the virus under control.
Other Asian countries, notably Taiwan and Hong Kong, also offer a lesson in how to contain COVID-19. Despite their proximity to, and reliance on, China, both countries fought the coronavirus with a combination of travel restrictions, strict quarantines, and smartphone technology to enforce social distancing measures.
Both nations also embrace widespread use of face masks, which have been scientifically proven, along with hand hygiene, to stem viral infection. Despite being densely populated, Taiwan and Hong Kong have collectively around 1,000 coronavirus cases, and only four deaths. By contrast, the United States not only has over 74,000 cases, but over 1,000 deaths. It would appear that North America faces a leadership crisis.
In addition to its tepid political class, Canada’s scientific “experts” have also been providing contradictory messages. An example is Isaac Bogoch, a University of Toronto infectious diseases professor, who repeatedly appears in the media, militating against the use of face masks by the general public. He has also argued against travel restrictions, even though this contradicts the recommendations of scientific bodies like the New England Complex Systems Institute, which is led by mainly MIT and Harvard professors.
Bogoch did not disclose that in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak, he gave a talk to the Toronto Chinese Business Association, encouraging Torontonians to eat at Chinese restaurants. Eating at any restaurant, during a pandemic, is contrary to the well understood principle of social distancing.
So-called experts like Bogoch need to be held accountable for arguing against scientific consensus when it comes to issues like face masks. Simple, surgical masks have been shown to reduce virus infection rates, and even WHO officials wear face masks whilst addressing news conferences. To Canadians however, the message from our officials has been, “masks don’t work” unless properly used. As The New York Times pointed out recently, this is like saying, “hand washing does not work unless properly carried out.”
Canadian officials still insist there is enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the health workers they claim to value - but reports from the frontlines paint a grim picture of actual and looming shortages and desperate pleas from doctors and nurses for donations from the public.
The Canadian government, and a few disingenuous scientists, have made life harder for all of us. Several levels of government have likened these extraordinary times to being at war, albeit with an invisible enemy. But every army prepares for war by stockpiling ammunition, simulating battle situations, and fine tuning responses. Our national and provincial governments seem to be making it up as they go.
Cornelius Christian is an assistant professor of economics at Brock University in St. Catharines, ON. Francis Christian is a clinical professor and surgeon at the Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon, SK.