As everyone has far too much time on their hands, it is easy to sit around and to look for people to point fingers at.
The fact is, no one in North America acted fast enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It is a case study that will be examined for the next few generations to figure out what went wrong and how to prevent the next pandemic.
The fact of the matter is we had an opportunity to prevent this virus from shutting down our economy and kick starting the expenditure of tens of billions of dollars to prop up an under-prepared health care system and to bankroll millions of new taxpayers and businesses who are now relying on government assistance of one form or another.
Quite simply, the shut down of international travel did not occur near fast enough.
To be fair, the novel coronavirus was initially shrouded in the distrust of China’s information system and strained relations over the detaining of a Chinese telecommunications executive and two innocent Canadians — anybody remember Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig? But there was more than enough information to go on to immediately stop any and all flights in and out of China.
Fisher Wang, who runs media relations for the Manitoba Chinese Community Centre in Winnipeg, was astute enough to realize the impact this could have. He knew the panic his home country was enveloped in. This was back on Jan. 24. He also understood the critical time of year that we were in, the Chinese New Year, which he called then “the largest migration on Earth.”
It was the perfect storm of millions of people travelling to one location where there was an uncontrolled outbreak of a new virus with the intention of returning to their homes throughout the world. Not all of them got sick, but enough of them did.
When other governments were slow to react, their health care systems were quickly overrun and the outbreak continued to spider out.
Canada’s reaction was a travel advisory and to screen people at three major international airports — Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. That screening consisted of asking several questions, handing them some literature and then telling them if they felt any symptoms to self-isolate for 14 days.
Passengers on a flight from Vancouver wait for their luggage at Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport on Sunday, March 22. Screening for COVID-19 was almost non-existent. Kevin King/Winnipeg Sun/Postmedia Network
The screening was almost non-existent at the Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport, which didn’t have direct flights to the early hotspots like China, Italy or Iran, but we forgot — or ignored — connecting flights.
Everybody should have been tested and quarantined for 14 days. Instead it turned into chasing fleas in a haystack trying to figure out where new cases originated from.
Our initial response was very Canadian. Let’s trust that people will do the right thing. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always work out.
Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre zeroed in on this on Monday, pointing a long finger at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“That was the mistake the government of Canada made in the first place, when they let 2,000 people from the Hubei province to come to Canada, after Jan. 22, after they had been briefed by military intelligence that the outbreak was dangerous and massive. Justin Trudeau let 2,000 people come in, and of those 2,000 people, 60 of them were given a brochure. That was it.”
At least Trudeau acted with more urgency and reliance on his country’s medical experts than President Donald Trump. But that was partly negated by being slow to close our border with the U.S. to non-essential travel and trade. How many snow birds are actually abiding by public health orders and did not stop at a grocery store to stock up upon returning to Canada?
We have a habit of being retrospective. The big lesson that we must take from this, is with the ease of world travel in the 21st century, we must be quicker on the draw to cut it off completely during times of sweeping outbreaks and pandemics.
It will need to be travel at your own risk if we are looking at the well-being of a nation both from an economic and health care standpoint.