In March, governments across Canada began violating our Charter freedoms to move, travel, assemble, associate and practice one’s faith or religion. Initially, most Canadians (myself included) were deferential to government. However, citizens must never forget that when governments violate our Charter rights—as they are clearly doing now, with continued lockdown measures that are enforced by heavy fines—the Charter requires governments to explain and justify their freedom-restricting policies as rational, minimal, and truly necessary.
The rationale in March was to "flatten the curve" in order to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. Tens of thousands of surgeries across Canada were cancelled by government decree, all of them medically necessary and many of them urgent. It will be months or even years before we know the full death toll of this decision, after counting all the cardiac patients who died while waiting for heart surgery, and after counting additional cancer deaths caused by lack of timely diagnosis and treatment.
Apart from cancelling scheduled surgeries, hospitals are also far from full (and in some provinces near-empty) because patients fear going to the hospital—or even the emergency room—to obtain the medical care they need. There have also been reports of patients being turned away if they were not COVID-19 patients. The big wave of COVID-19 patients didn’t come, and most of our government-run health care systems are now under-used, to the detriment of sick patients.
At no time did Canada’s 14 Chief Medical Officers, or the politicians who took their advice, assert that our goal was to stop the virus entirely from spreading throughout the population. Again, the rationale was to "flatten the curve" to control the speed of COVID-19’s spread.
The lockdown is killing people. For example, an estimated 35 people have died in Ontario because their cardiac surgeries were not performed due to the COVID-19 shutdowns, according to Toronto’s University Health Network. Deaths resulting from cancelled surgeries are merely a starting point. It will be a long time before we can calculate the full cost—in health and in lives—of the predictable increases in anxiety, depression, suicide, mental illness, spousal abuse, psychiatric disorders, child abuse, seniors dying home alone, and all manner of harm resulting from lack of exercise, fresh air, and personal connection with other human beings.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 is still killing large numbers of vulnerable seniors in long-term care facilities, the very people we were hoping to protect. Those who want to take credit for saving lives must also accept responsibility for causing deaths.
The curve is flat enough. The tens of thousands of deaths never materialized, yet schools are still closed, parents cannot take their children to the playground, and businesses and houses of worship are still shutdown by government decree.
What is the goal today? To prevent Canadians from developing the herd immunity that we need to fully vanquish COVID-19?
It takes years, not months, to develop a vaccine that is both safe and effective, if one is ever developed at all. Even if a safe-and-effective vaccine was developed, there is no guarantee it would work on new and different strains of a virus. Yet some politicians have stated the restrictions on our society should not be fully lifted until there is a vaccine.
Is it now the goal to stop the spread of viruses entirely? If yes, our society will never reopen, because there will always be viruses.
In mid-March, many countries relied on predictions by Dr. Neil Ferguson of Imperial College (500,000 COVID-19 deaths in the UK; 2.,2 million deaths in the US) to impose lockdowns.
Today we have more data available. Governments owe it to Canadians to consider it, and let the data, rather than inaccurate and outdated predictions, drive decision-making.
In the US, 74,807 deaths were attributed to COVID-19 as of May 7. While tragic, this number remains below the 80,000 deaths during 2017-18 flu season, which was also confirmed by the Centre for Disease Control (CDC)
There were 30,076 reported COVID-19 deaths in the UK as of May 6, compared to an estimated 26,408 deaths from seasonal influenza in 2017-18. However, the final number of COVID-19 deaths in the UK might not exceed the 34,300 UK influenza deaths in 2013-14.
Italy is well past its COVID-19 peaks: March 21 for cases, and March 27 for deaths. As of May 6, Italy has reported 29,648 COVID-19 deaths. The death toll from influenza-like illnesses in Italy in was 41,066 in 2014-15, and 43,336 in 2016-17.
The global COVID-19 death toll of 265,094 as of May 7 is still well below the estimate for a light flu season. The flu is estimated to kill between 291,000 and 646,000 people every year.
However, we cannot even take the present COVID-19 figures at face value. From the beginning, record-keeping has suffered from a failure to distinguish between people who had COVID-19 at time of death, and those who actually died from it.
Prof. Walter Ricciardi, scientific advisor to the Italian minister of health, has stated publicly: "The way in which we code deaths in our country is very generous in the sense that all the people who die in hospitals with the coronavirus are deemed to be dying of the coronavirus." This is confirmed in the report of the Istituto Superiore di Sanita.
The discrepancy between dying "from" COVID-19 and dying "with" the disease may be very high indeed. Prof. Ricciardi went on to state: "On re-evaluation by the National Institute of Health, only 12 percent of death certificates have shown a direct causality from coronavirus, while 88 percent of patients who have died have at least one pre-morbidity—many had two or three."
Dr. John Lee, an emeritus professor of pathology in the UK, explains that the same bias is in place in England: "There is a big difference between Covid-19 causing death, and Covid-19 being found in someone who died of other causes. … It might appear far more of a killer than flu, simply because of the way deaths are recorded."
Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, has gone on the record to say, "If you were in hospice and had already been given a few weeks to live, and then you also were found to have COVID, that would be counted as a COVID death. It means technically even if you died of a clear alternate cause, but you had COVID at the same time, it’s still listed as a COVID death."
During the April 7 COVID-19 White House briefing, Dr. Deborah Birx stated that this is practiced across the US: "So, I think in this country, we’ve taken a very liberal approach to mortality… If someone dies with COVID-19, we are counting that as a COVID-19 death."
In short, in some jurisdictions the number of patients directly killed by COVID-19 is certainly less than the number who died with it. Canada’s governments should be transparent about how COVID-19 deaths are being recorded in each province.
Now that the "curve" has been "flattened" in relation to hospital capacity, the big question that Canada’s politicians and Chief Medical Officers must answer is what, if anything, justifies the continued full or partial lockdowns which violate our fundamental Charter freedoms. The onus is on governments, not citizens, to justify policies and penalties that continue to take away our freedoms and push millions of Canadians into one or more of unemployment, bankruptcy, and poverty.