Chris Selley: Canadians seem happy to tolerate government ineptitude as COVID restrictions get worse

There is no reason to expect anything to get conspicuously better. They lock us down, we breathe a sigh of relief. They let us out, we cheer and await the next lockdown

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Doug Ford can say he dug in his heels, at least. For weeks on end, Ontario’s premier faced down an ever-increasing roar of disapproval from Ontario’s establishment media over his refusal to send Toronto and its environs back into lockdown. There wasn’t much if any political downside: polls consistently show little resistance to the idea. But Ford spoke of his torment over shutting down businesses. He pleaded with folks to follow the rules, not to gather in large groups, to be responsible.

And then, on Friday, he folded, just as everyone knew he would.

On 12:01 a.m. Monday, the hammer comes down in Toronto and adjacent Peel Region: no more (cold) patio dining; no more non-essential indoor retail; no more haircuts, manicures or other “personal services”; no more indoor recreation of any kind; indeed, no indoor gatherings, period —?except weddings, which can have up to 10 guests, which makes no earthly sense whatsoever.

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For this Ford will earn, at most, grudging praise. And he doesn’t even deserve that. Because if he believes lockdowns work, then there is no question he should have done this sooner, when there were far fewer cases for the lockdown to have to deal with. Toronto’s and Peel’s new-case rates exceeded their spring peaks at the beginning of October. Then they went up another 89 and 329 per cent, respectively, before he pulled the trigger.

Mind you, Ford’s is hardly the only government implementing measures on indefensible timelines. Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s provincial health officer, unveiled her own package of new restrictions and rules on Thursday. Among them: after resisting months of pressure, she finally announced that British Columbians would henceforth have to wear masks in all public indoor environments.

Whether or not lockdowns have their desired effect, they come with massive socioeconomic costs. Ford was right to agonize over it; hoping it might not be necessary was, at least, understandable. Wearing a mask comes with no socioeconomic costs whatsoever. Henry, like so many in the public health world, clearly came into the pandemic with an inexplicable, adamantine aversion to masking. Unlike many of her colleagues, she has only just now gotten over it.

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Meanwhile in Ottawa, Friday saw new pandemic modelling — something that gets less and less compelling as time goes by. It basically boils down to this: If human beings keep interacting as much as they are now, cases are likely to keep increasing roughly along the same trendline. If humans interact more, things will likely get worse. If humans interact less, things will likely get better.

This is hardly game-changing information, and it remains unclear why the federal public health agency is even providing it. No one is in charge of improving Canada’s trendline. Rather, the provincial governments and the governments they oversee are in charge of improving a large collection of provincial, regional and local trendlines. What we need from Ottawa isn’t 10-mile-high analysis. We need it to do its actual jobs a lot better.

To wit: On Wednesday, CBC News reported that the Public Health Agency of Canada only got around to insisting border officials collect contact information from quarantine-exempt crossers — the vast majority of them truck drivers —?on July 31. Just when the mind manages to unboggle, it boggles anew. Roughly five million such crossings have occurred, and the strategy for mitigating whatever epidemiological risk they pose has been to wince and hope for the best.

Here is yet another area where rapid antigen testing could help enormously, if only Health Canada would abandon its obvious ideological aversion to the technology or the Liberal government would order it to. In a serious country, everyone entering would get two tests: a rapid antigen test, with results almost immediately; and a PCR test, with results in 24 hours. If you test negative on the former, proceed with caution and keep your phone on. If you test positive, then into quarantine you go, pending confirmation.

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This is hardly game-changing information, and it remains unclear why the federal public health agency is even providing it

Instead we will do neither, because we trust the experts at Health Canada. The ones who once told us that masks could be dangerous.

Amidst all this shambles, sickness and death, you might expect governments to be hanging on by their fingernails. But only two are taking any real heat: just 40 per cent of Manitobans and 37 per cent of Albertans are satisfied with “the measures put in place to fight the … pandemic by (their) provincial government,” according to Léger’s latest weekly poll for the Association for Canadian Studies.

But 70 per cent of British Columbians are still happy with the NDP, even as the province’s numbers go through the roof. Sixty-five per cent are satisfied in Ontario, somehow. Sixty-eight per cent are happy with the federal government’s efforts. More Albertans are happy with Justin Trudeau’s government than with Jason Kenney’s! And in Quebec, where the cumulative death rate is roughly the same as in France, the United Kingdom, Italy and the United States, and where cases and deaths continue to soar anew, an astonishing 78 per cent of Quebecers think Fran?ois Legault’s government is doing an OK job.

As such, there is really no reason to expect anything to get conspicuously better. They lock us down, we breathe a sigh of relief. They let us out, we cheer and await the next lockdown. The vaccines can’t come soon enough.

? Email: cselley@www.wixfoto.com | Twitter:

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