FUREY: Canada made pandemic playbooks — and we’re not following them

Author of the article:Anthony Furey

Publishing date:Feb 06, 2021  

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam holds a press conference during the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020. PHOTO BY SEAN KILPATRICK /THE CANADIAN PRESS

It’s quite something to look back and see what Canada’s response to a pandemic was supposed to be and then compare it to what we’ve actually being doing to deal with COVID-19.

There’s one recurring theme that comes across when you study the various pandemic preparedness documents that have been put together by different levels of governments in recent years: It’s that they all anticipate a situation worse than the one that is currently unfolding, but they call for less restrictive measures than the ones that have now been enacted.

As an example, let’s take a look at the “high impact” scenario in the federal government’s 2018 pandemic preparedness guidebook. That’s the worst case scenario they outline. It anticipates that 25% to 45% of the population becomes ill and warns that “mass fatalities may overwhelm death care services (e.g. funeral homes, mortuaries).”

What then should be done in such a situation? When it comes to businesses, it simply warns that “high absenteeism (due to illness) would put all sectors and services under extreme pressure.” It certainly doesn’t call to shut all of these workplaces down.

Here’s the most aggressive the recommendations get: “Social distancing measures or strategies may be used to minimize close contact among persons in public places, e.g., pro-active school closures; cancellation or modification of public gatherings; and alternative workplace approaches, such as teleconferences and working from home. Because of their potential societal impact, social distancing measures are most applicable in pandemics of moderate to high impact.”

There’s a more detailed 2010 report by the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit — an Ontario region north of Toronto that includes the city of Barrie — that also offers great insights.

(To be clear, these are all influenza pandemic guidebooks. No officials anticipated a coronavirus pandemic.)

Their working assumptions for a worst-case scenario involve the pandemic requiring “170% of ICU beds, and 117% of ventilator supported beds during the peak of influenza activity.” Yet even with these dire predictions — which no Canadian hospital has experienced during COVID-19 — they simply talk about measures required to support the health care system and manage expectations. They don’t talk about shutting down all of society in response to increased hospital volume.

It’s this disconnect between what we’re supposed to be doing and the mistaken path Canada has instead headed down that retired Lt.-Col. David Redman has been sounding the alarm over.

Redman knows what he’s talking about. After 27 years in the Canadian Armed Forces, he went on to become the executive director of the Alberta Emergency Management Agency.

“Never send healthy people home,” says Redman, in conversation with the Sun. “That’s a ridiculous concept. Every plan that was ever written says you use non-pharmaceutical interventions as the last resort. They really discourage lockdowns.”

Redman points to how the World Health Organization initially didn’t support China plunging the region of Wuhan into the first such widespread lockdown in modern human history.

“We followed the campaign of fear coming out of China and we watched what they did,” says Redman, of the first big misstep made by government officials.

Now, Redman is firing off briefing notes to Canada’s premiers in the hopes that they’ll pivot towards the way emergency planning officials — who the retired military officer says should have played a greater role from the beginning — would deal with the situation.

“We do two things,” Redman says of what he hopes can be a new game plan. “One: We immediately quarantine our long-term care seniors’ homes. Two: We immediately change the rhetoric in the media and we move to confidence — we tell people that our hospital system is not going to collapse because we built surge capacity.”

A conversation with Redman is a bittersweet experience. It’s refreshing to hear an experienced military officer and emergency planner talk about how there is indeed a better way to manage the situation. But it’s sad to think that so much of the damage that’s been caused by lockdowns and poor protection of LTCs could have been averted if we just stayed calm and put the right people in charge.

I’ll leave you with a section from Redman’s latest briefing note that was sent to Canada’s premiers on Wednesday:

“Ignoring our long-established and hard learned pandemic response goals and following a failed lockdown response has caused massive collateral damage in terms of deaths and long-term effects on our population. Collateral damage, largely ignored by mainstream media, includes but is not limited to, massive damage to our social fabric, our mental health, our other severe health conditions, our children’s education, and our economy.”

FUREY: Canada made pandemic playbooks — and we’re not following them | Toronto Sun


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