HARDING: Political Blame Game - COVID-19

HARDING: Political Blame Game - COVID-19

Postby Oscar » Sun Apr 26, 2020 11:59 am


April 22, 2020 – 50th Earth Day By Jim Harding

Andrew Scheer seemed a lame duck, until the race to replace him was postponed. He’s back in the news. I don’t often agree with Scheer, who happens to be my MP, but he is right that parliamentary accountability must occur during this pandemic. However, it would be unwise for hundreds of MPs to travel back and forth to Ottawa.

Scheer says he wants to ask "tough questions". There are life and death questions to ask and answer, but are Scheer and his Conservative colleagues just chomping at the bit to politicize the pandemic? Conservative Premier Kenney’s personal attack on Dr. Tam suggests, “probably yes”; though, so far, Ontario’s Conservative Premier Ford seems to be comfortable sticking to the higher road.

Across the border, Trump’s self-sabotaging nationalism carries on. He encourages protests against stay-at-home directives and creates scapegoats for his chaotic mishandling of the pandemic. The U.S. has the most deaths, globally, and may yet end up facing a deadly second wave.

Pointing fingers and sowing mistrust undermines our capacity to quell COVID-19. The blame game should stop. Trudeau has already said “We will try to be better prepared next time, if there is a next time.” But how are we to ensure this?

Crucial questions about accountability are emerging. These should be thoroughly investigated in a future Royal Commission into the causes and handling of the pandemic. How else will we collectively learn the lessons that we so desperately need to learn to also address the related climate and biodiversity crisis.

One: Why didn’t our government heed the warning of a respiratory pathogen pandemic, issued September 2019 by the WHO-World Bank Joint Pandemic Monitoring Board? If Canada’s public health officials followed WHO, and cabinet colleagues listened, they would know that WHO tracked 1,483 epidemics from 2011-18 and the risk of a pandemic was ever-growing.

Two: Why didn’t we maintain the National Emergency Stockpile System created after SARS? Why weren’t millions of masks cycled back into the system and replaced when they expired under the Conservative Harper government in 2014? Why were two million masks and half a million gloves taken to Regina’s dump in 2019, yes 2019? And, how is it that Alberta was able to amass a PPE stockpile, which it finally shared with other provinces?

The preventable PPE scarcity for healthcare workers, who would face the feared surge, led to crisis management, discouraging the public wearing masks, which, with physical distancing, could have slowed COVID-19.

Three: What about the lack of testing capacity? Germany’s federation was better prepared, with testing authority and lab capacity at the state level? This allowed early intervention and contributed to a lower death rate. Why wasn’t our decentralized, inter-provincial healthcare system better prepared?

Four: What about procrastinating “lockdowns” to slow transmission? France, Britain and the U.S., were slow to enforce social distancing, even while devastating daily death tolls mounted in other countries. Initially, our government put averting short-term economic impacts, especially in tourism, above long-term impacts on public health and the economy. Economic aid packages clearly took precedence over a comprehensive federal (inter-provincial) public health strategy that could have included proactive action in long term care homes.

Ethical responsibility was sometimes blurred. No one is accountable for spring break coming earlier in Quebec than B.C., though this likely affected the rate of spread. Initially, Italy only locked down its north, where cases had skyrocketed. The unintended consequence was thousands of “freedom-loving” citizens fleeing, carrying the virus south.

Five: And what about being so slow with quarantines? Our government rightly quarantined returnees from infected cruise ships. However, airport and border controls were laissez-faire. Canadians abroad were encouraged to return home without any process fully in place to contain them from spreading the virus. It wasn’t until mid-April that B.C. required a quarantine plan for returnees. Canada finally followed suit.

Six: What about almost half of all COVID deaths here being elderly in long-term care? This should be fully investigated in a future Royal Commission, and officials should be held accountable; criminally responsible, when appropriate.

With ill-prepared governments in crisis mode, ramping up ICU capacity, the already vulnerable elderly in care were out of sight, out of mind. COVID-19 hit Washington state in late February. By early March, from Seattle, we knew that staff working in multiple homes were spreading the virus. Why did it take until late April for this to be curtailed here? Why did PPE only become required for care staff more than a month after the virus hit? The preventable shortage of masks cost lives!

What about precarious work and chronic understaffing, long before the COVID-19 emergency, which, has now led Quebec Premier Legault, and Ontario Premier Ford, to have to call in military medics? Or that only 9 of 626 Ontario care homes had a Resident Quality Inspection (RQI) in 2019, under Ford’s Conservative government, a further act of de-regulating this highly privatized sector. Why weren’t infectious disease protocols in place?

Social work colleagues and public service unions have warned, since the 1970s, about the dire consequences of such privatization. Conservative Premier Kenney announced further privatization of healthcare and care homes just before COVID-19 hit.

Seven: Why have there been such variations in death rates? How many infected people who ended up on emergency ventilators actually recovered? How many might have recovered if they had access to early intervention (e.g. oxygen) for this atypical COVID pneumonia? How many elderly people in care would have survived if their protection was addressed as soon as their vulnerability was known?

Countries putting public health first, with comprehensive testing and a quick lockdown, if necessary, seemed best able to quell the virus. Austria, Germany, New Zealand, South Korea and China seem best prepared to cautiously phase in economic activities, and monitor to avert a second wave. In contrast, the U.S., with its constant political tug of war with the White House, is acting like a failed state.

Scheer is right that accountability matters. But he’s not likely going to be raising the “tough questions” that we must address, no matter how often parliament sits.

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Activist author Jim Harding is a retired professor of environmental and justice studies. He is a founding member of the Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (go to: QVEA.CA) and was director of research for Sask Health’s Alcoholism Commission and for the University of Regina’s Prairie Justice Research Consortium.

other articles on pandemic/climate at: [ crowsnestecology.wordpress.com ]
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