The campaign is still in the early stages, but some Monday morning quarterbacks in the media are already weighing in with criticism of Ottawa’s initial response to COVID-19. The Globe and Mail, in a front-page story on April 9, described how health officials ignored their own lessons from the 2003 SARS outbreak and failed to stockpile sufficient medical supplies to deal with a pandemic. Both the Globe and CBC – the latter equipped with internal government documents – detailed how officials as well as the Health Minister and Chief Public Health Officer spent January and February downplaying the seriousness of the virus.
Ever since the government changed its tune in early March about the health risk from COVID-19, the country has enjoyed an unusual display of unity. In contrast to the partisan spectacle in Washington, Canadian politicians at all levels have shown willingness to work together to tackle the virus and save the economy. Whether this spirit of togetherness survives the second-guessing kicked off in the national media is now in question. It’s a rare opposition politician who can resist getting in on a story critical of the government in power.
Since the virus took over our lives, the word from the government has been that we need to approach the health emergency week to week. On that basis the next couple of weeks will be important not only in giving an indication of the pandemic’s severity, but also in helping to judge the Trudeau government’s handling of the crisis.
The reference website Worldometer provides a range of country-level statistics that, so far at least, show Canada faring better than most other countries.
There has been much criticism – including from government leaders like Doug Ford – about the lack of testing. No doubt a lot more testing is required, but when compared with other countries, Canada has not been a laggard. As of April 11, only six countries had done more tests than Canada. And of those six, only three had tested a larger percentage of its population.
Table 1: Tests and tests per million
|Country||Total tests||Tests/m. pop.|
As the third column shows, Canada’s rate of 10,639 per million was higher than that of South Korea, Russia and the United States. The Worldometer site does not have test numbers for China, whose reporting on several aspects of COVID-19 has been questioned.
Not surprisingly, since the virus came to this country late, Canada’s death rate is much lower than other industrialized countries that have been tracking and reporting on the spread of the virus. As of April 11, there were 569 Canadian deaths from COVID-19, over 80 per cent of those in Ontario and Quebec. The death toll works out to 15 per million population. As would be expected, that’s far below the hardest hit countries of Europe. But it is also about one-quarter the rate in the U.S., a more meaningful comparator.
Table 2:Deaths per million population, selected countries
The fairly rosy picture presented so far is not expected to last. On April 11, the government released projections estimating 11,000 to 22,000 Canadian deaths from COVID-19. That’s a sobering figure which would produce a Western Europe-like rate of 290 per million at the lower end and 580 per million at the top of the range.
The 11,000-22,000is a long-term projection that sees the pandemic hanging around at least until the fall. In the shorter term, expect to see the rubber hitting the road immediately. On Thursday, federal officials projected a death toll of from 500 to 700 by April 16, and case numbers ranging from a low of 22,580 to as much as 31,850. When they made that projection there were 18,447 cases and 401 deaths. As of April 11, 22,559 cases were about to hit the low range and 569 deaths had already surpassed the low end of that projection.
Most provinces have also projected deaths from the pandemic, but long-term ranges are so broad as to be meaningless. Ontario has come up with a range from 3,000 to 15,000, Alberta 500 to 6,600, Saskatchewan 3,000 to 8,000. Some provinces have also made projections to the end of April, presaging a potential deluge of bad news over the next couple of weeks.
Ontario, which reported 222 deaths on April 10, is projecting anywhere from 1,600 to 6,000 by the end of April. Quebec, with 216 deaths already, is projecting at least 1,260. New Brunswick, with no deaths to date, has projected 15 by the end of the month.
So far, Nova Scotia has refrained from projecting deaths or cases, long term or immediate. But with 407 cases compared with only 112 for New Brunswick it’s highly unlikely that the current total of two deaths will last much longer. Unless we are extremely lucky, April will be cruel for Nova Scotians and all Canadians. Just how merciless the month turns out to be will do much to determine the ultimate social and political impact of the pandemic.