Puzzling Aspects of Canada’s Pandemic Response

Puzzling Aspects of Canada’s Pandemic Response
A woman walks past a COVID-19 mural in Toronto on April 12, 2021. (The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette)
Ian Gentles

Our government’s latest lockdown because of the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases, mainly Omicron, has forced me to look more deeply into this crisis that has been with us for almost two years.

Publicly there has been far less discussion of the price we have collectively paid, compared to the benefits gained, from lockdowns and other restrictive measures imposed over this period.

Yet, it is common knowledge that domestic abuse and alcohol and drug consumption are up. Many jobs have been lost; many restaurants and other small businesses have been driven bankrupt; many people’s income has taken a major hit, while government debt at all levels has soared to nearly $2 trillion.

Worst of all, our children have paid a heavy price by the on-and-off shutting down of schools. Not only has their education been curtailed, but their normal socialization with other children has been severely reduced. We know that online learning is no substitute for attending in person in the company of one’s peers. We have no idea how much our children will suffer in later years from the prolonged denial of their normal freedoms, but many think the consequences will be significant.

Parents are suffering too.

How are working parents expected to cope with having their school-age children at home with only two days’ notice? Is one parent—usually the mother—supposed to give up her job in order to look after her kids and supervise their education? Or is she expected to arrange child care? If she is lucky there might be a grandparent willing to pitch in. If there is not, daytime babysitters are virtually impossible to find.

The situation with pre-school children is equally dire. Most parents work for a living, and their children are in daycare. If their child shows a single symptom resembling COVID (a cough for example), they must keep the child at home in isolation for five days. It is easy to imagine how disruptive this will be to the parent’s ability to earn income. Daycare in Toronto typically costs $1,600 a month, whether or not the child is actually present.

Even when schoolchildren were attending in-person classes before the latest lockdowns, conditions were oppressive. They all had to wear masks during the five classroom hours, as well as the lunch hour. As soon as school was over they were told not to linger but to go straight home. All extra-curricular activities were cancelled indefinitely. That means no soccer, no basketball or other sports, no choirs, no concerts, no dramatic productions. Nothing to enrich our children’s education.

Yet the government’s draconian measures have been applied selectively. Last month, for example, before the current lockdown, public gatherings in Ontario were still severely limited. Restaurants were required to keep a written record of all their customers—names, phone numbers, and photos of their vaccine passports.

On the other hand, the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team was able to play the Tampa Bay Lightning before a capacity crowd. The 20,000 fans sat cheering and shouting, cheek by jowl. According to a friend of mine who attended a game in December, almost no one wore a mask.

Yet even if they had all been wearing masks and sitting two metres apart, we have to ask, for whose benefit? Our children? Hardly. What is often forgotten is that COVID-19 is overwhelmingly a disease of the old. Figures from Statistics Canada show that the average age at death for COVID sufferers is almost 84 (83.8 to be exact). The average age at death of the population as a whole is 82. Fully 60 percent of those who die from COVID are above 80.

How many children have died from COVID? The same source tells us that a grand total of 19 people under the age of 20 have died from COVID—a tiny fraction of one percent of all the deaths.

Another interesting discovery from official statistics: influenza deaths have disappeared. That’s right, there were zero deaths from influenza in 2020-21, and only 120 the year before. Yet prior to that there were around 6,000-8,000 deaths per year from influenza and pneumonia. Could it be that COVID-19 is actually a form of the flu, although a nasty and highly contagious one?

Be that as it may, isn’t it high time there was a public discussion of the huge sacrifice that our children and their parents are making in order to protect the elderly? As someone who is over 80, I am embarrassed that we old people apparently expect our grandchildren to pay an incalculable price in terms of their mental, social, and psychological well-being, to protect us from an illness to which they are largely immune.

Ian Gentles is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and distinguished professor of history and global affairs at Tyndale University in Toronto. He is the co-author of "Complications: Abortion’s Impact on Women" (2nd ed., 2018), published by the deVeber Institute for Bioethics in Toronto.
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