The Morning Brief – 02.04.21

By Bruce Carson


The need to lockdown communities and provinces

The need to open up to let sunshine in and let our businesses thrive

The need to deal with mental health and education but stop the variant strains of COVID-19

Striking a balance

Last week Alberta’s Premier Kenney announced that some restrictions on commercial and other activities would be lifted on February 8. This announcement caught many by surprise in Alberta as the number of cases was going down, but not dramatically. Those whose businesses will be allowed to open also seemed surprised.

On Tuesday, Premier Legault of Quebec announced the removal of some restrictions in a few areas. He kept the curfew in place and announced that spring break would take place as scheduled. Those returning from spring break last year created a spike in COVID-19 cases in Quebec. Yesterday Premier Ford of Ontario stated that he would be announcing the removal of some restrictions. In Ontario over the next two weeks most schools will open.

Andre Picard, long time writer on health issues for the Globe wrote this week “things are looking up in our pandemic fight, so keep locking down.” He added “if we limit interactions, we limit spread, giving variants less of an opportunity to gain a foothold, giving vaccines time to be administered.”

He emphasized that as things improve, as vaccine delivery picks up steam and cases continue to drop –it becomes all the more important to hold the line on public health measures, or even step them up.

He is clear in his view about stifling the virus, stating “the worst possible thing we can do right now is relax lockdowns too quickly. This is no time to rush to the mall.”

He talks about Alberta and Quebec “tossing a bone to business” by relaxing restrictions. This is not a kind or accurate portrayal of what premiers in these two provinces and others, who may follow, are doing. They are trying to find a balance between keeping their populations safe from the virus, still contain it and stifle it, but also recognize the needs of business to operate on a limited scale, taking into consideration the mental health issues faced daily by business owners.

Picard was following statements by Dr. Tam made last weekend when she said that it is “critical strong measures are kept in place to maintain a downward trend in still elevated daily case counts and high rates of infection across all age groups-risk is that trends could reverse quickly.”

The problem for Dr. Tam, Andre Picard and others advocating that restrictions remain in place and those who wish to open up economies, albeit, slowly and safely is that conditions to allow this opening to happen in a timely fashion are not in place.

The promised vaccines are not here and in some cases, not even on their way. To date while the provinces have used their supplies on front line health care workers and residents of long term care homes, Canada’s population at large has not yet been called upon to roll up their sleeves. Although millions of doses are promised daily by the prime minister for the end of Q2, there is yet no evidence that they will arrive and be injected in a timely manner.

The prime minister has been asked in question period this week, how many Canadians must be vaccinated before the economy will be able to open up? Not surprisingly, no answer.

While we can’t manufacture vaccines out of thin air, if we could the government would be doing that now, an alternative to help keep us safe as the economy opens could be the deployment of rapid testing and tracing.

The lack of use of rapid testing is one of the conundrums of the pandemic as they would help identification of the virus as well as prevention of spread of COVID-19.

Perrin Beatty who heads up the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, along with three others wrote a letter signed by 28 members of the health and business community urging the adoption of widespread rapid testing and contact tracing. This has been done in other countries.

Rapid tests deliver results in minutes and those showing positive results can be immediately isolated. High risk and asymptomatic people can be quickly tested and supported by contact tracing. At the same time safety protocols as we now practice them will remain in place.

“Rapid Test and Trace Canada” believes with an investment of $2 billion from the federal government 200,000 could be tested daily and as many as 5 million by April.

If this occurred the letter writers say it “would allow us to virtually eliminate active infections while vaccines are being rolled out to provide long term protection.”

It is argued that Canada needs a comprehensive testing strategy for seniors’ homes, hard hit lower income and minority groups as well as Canada’s Indigenous population.

The group argues that Canada needs to commit resources to rapid testing and approve low cost rapid, at home, tests.

Perhaps as we wait for vaccines to arrive, hopefully in large quantities by the end of Q2, as promised, rapid testing as advocated by Beatty and friends could allow some lessening of restrictions, as long as the rapid testing is accompanied by effective contact tracing.

Once vaccines arrive, both together should help deal with this second wave and the variants it contains.

Canadians know and appreciate the balance of competing interests leaders are trying to achieve. Canadians also need to know what it will take to get rid of the present restrictions. It seems that deployment in sufficient numbers of rapid test kits could provide a useful tool.

To be clear, none of the present federal, provincial, territorial and municipal leaders, other than those who ran elections during the pandemic period, signed up to make these types of decisions such as defining the balance between public health protection and opening the economy.

But it is important that in making these decisions they use all the tools at their disposal in the best interests of Canadians including the best public health medical advice, rapid testing, effective tracing and vaccines while following public health protocols. No solution to achieving balance should remain untouched on the shelf.

To Come

February 5
  • International trade numbers for December to be released
  • Job numbers for January to be released
  • House of Commons adjourns
February 15
  • Monthly survey of manufacturing for December to be released
February 16
  • House of Commons resumes sitting

The Morning Brief returns on Wednesday, February 10.

– BC