Canada could have stopped pandemic earlier -but at what cost?

Two nations have contrasting approaches to the control of COVID-19. One uses state-control, the other appeals to the individual’s sense of citizenship.

image: Forbes

China’s approach was to seal off the source of the outbreak in Wuhan in January. It was a draconian step to halt the spread of the deadly virus but by all reports, it seems to have worked.

On January 25, 2020, a man flew to Toronto from Wuhan and became the first presumptive case of the coronavirus in Canada. Airports were such an obvious point of vulnerability. Canada could have taken similar drastic measures by sealing off airports and by doing so, halted the virus in its tracks.

However, Canadians would have never accepted such heavy-handed a tactic. Instead, passengers arriving by air were asked to self-isolate, a tactic that depended on compliance.

I can imagine how I would have felt if, after arriving back from Mexico in March, I was herded into holding facilities and subjected to forced quarantine. Instead, some nice young people handed me an information sheet and advised me to stay at home for two weeks.

Sweden is trying a different approach. That county has no lockdowns, no school closures, and no ban on going to the pub.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven is appealing to citizenship, calling this a “common sense” response to the pandemic. Rather than the heavy hand of the state in controlling the pandemic, Sweden is depending on the power of citizens do the right thing. “We who are adults need to be exactly that – adults. Not spread panic or rumours,” said Lofven. “No one is alone in this crisis, but each person has a heavy responsibility.”

Faith in Swedish common sense is admirable but it doesn’t seem to be working. While Denmark, Finland, and Norway have seen some reductions in hospitalizations pre million, Sweden is still on the rise as of April 8. Swedish public opinion regarding the tactic is divided about 50/50. The Swedish government will likely change its mind if public opinion opts for more isolation.

I suspect that the public opinion of the citizens of Wuhan matters little. The Chinese state is not moved by public opinion.

Maybe some state intervention during a health crisis might be a good thing.

While an informed citizenry is a powerful democratic tool, reliable information is becoming scarce in this fractured newsworld of “true facts.”

An ill-informed citizenry leads to a chaotic response and the spread of disease.

Take vaccinations, for example. Some parents are informed by what they are led to believe are reliable sources; sources that say vaccinations cause autism and disease. In that case, the state has stepped in some jurisdictions to impose vaccinations for the health and safety of all.

The common good has to outweigh the misguided opinions of a few.

Canada has adopted a balance of heavy-handedness and public education. We accept that schools, restaurants, and stores have been shut down. Those who disagree with the fact of the pandemic, as an expression of their liberty to think as please, face limitations of movement and social censure.

Canada falls somewhere between state-intervention and freedom of expression. Sometimes the powers of government have to be used judiciously to outweigh the whims of individualists in order to protect greater society.

 

Canada goes nuclear

Canada is third in the world in replacing fossil fuels with nuclear. France and Sweden have replaced almost all of their fossil-fuelled generated electricity with nuclear power. Now France generates only six per cent of electricity with fossil fuels and Sweden only one per cent.

Darlington Nuclear Plant, Ontario

Canada comes behind France and Sweden in replacing fossil fuels. Now fossil fuels generate 19 per cent of our electricity. Canada has an advantage with hydroelectricity: hydro generates 59 per cent of our total.  Nuclear generates 15 per cent and wind/solar generate 7 per cent.

Ontario is mainly responsible for Canada’s third place position. In 2003, the Ontario government started phasing out coal-fired generators. At the time, coal generated one-quarter of the province’s electricity. By 2014, coal was gone. Now 60 per cent of Ontario’s electricity comes from nuclear plants, not far behind France at 77 per cent (Globe and Mail, June 21, 2019).

Other countries aren’t even close to top three. In the United States, 67 per cent of electricity comes from fossil fuels. In Germany, despite massive subsidies for wind and solar, 55 per cent of their electricity comes from fossil fuels.

Nuclear energy is the most dangerous source of electricity in the world, except for the alternative. Nuclear meltdowns are spectacular but deaths are much fewer than those from fossil fuels.

The explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant in 1986 killed 50 first responders and will likely kill 25,000 from cancer resulting from radiation. There were no direct deaths from radiation when a tsunami hit the Fukushima Nuclear station in 2011 but radiation from the plant is expected to generate 180 cases of cancer. Fukushima was second largest nuclear disaster in history, after Chernobyl.

The burning of fossil fuels, mainly coal, causes 7.3 million premature deaths annually according to the World Health Organization. Not all of those deaths are from the production of electricity but coal generates 41 per cent of the world’s electricity. Extrapolating those numbers means that coal sourced electricity kills 3 million people annually.

The burning of fossil fuels is the greatest threat to humanity. Our very existence in some parts of the planet is at risk due to climate change.

Misconceptions over nuclear energy abound. One in three Canadians think nuclear power plants emit as much carbon dioxide as burning oil. Almost three in 10 think it emits more. Nuclear energy plants emit no carbon dioxide.

You hear about the nuclear plants that blow up or melt down but not much about the about 450 now in operation, most in the U.S., with 60 more reactors under construction worldwide.

Nuclear plants have their problems. They are expensive to build and disposal of spent radioactive fuel is controversial.

Nuclear power is a taboo topic in politics. I can guarantee that you won’t hear any of the leaders of Canada’s three main political parties even mention the word nuclear prior to the upcoming federal election.

Environmentalists despise nuclear energy as being too risky. Some unions support it, such as the Power Workers Union who placed full-page ads in the Globe and Mail praising nuclear power. Most Canadians, I suspect, would rather not think about it.

Canadians look beyond America

For the first time in decades, Canadians are more likely to hold a negative view of the U.S. than positive. According to a survey by the Environics Institute, it’s the lowest ever with only 44 per cent saying that they hold a positive view of the U.S.

     image: openeurope.org.uk

It happened overnight says Doug Saunders:

“It is not a subtle drift – Canadians were overwhelmingly positive about the United States as recently as 2016, until Donald Trump’s inauguration put a majority into the anti-American column. The proportion of Canadians who see the United States as “a negative force in today’s world” is now almost 6 in 10, a 12-per-cent rise over 2008, making America by far the most negative country in the eyes of Canadians (Globe and Mail, April 16).”

Canadians see the U.S. even more negatively than even North Korea which is second at 46 per cent.

The U.S. and Britain used to be viewed as “standing out as a positive force in today’s world.” Now Germany is number one, Britain has fallen to second place, and Sweden has risen to third.

While we don’t share languages, we do see similar values in Germany and Sweden.  Those two countries took in two-thirds of Europe’s refugees during the crisis of 2016 at a time when President Trump was denouncing them. And they have avoided far-right governments, which make them look more like Canada.

Canadians look globally in terms of trade. Almost three-quarters of Canadians have a “very favourable” view on international trade. Even NAFTA is more popular than ever. Two-thirds of us say that it “helped rather than hurt” Canada -the highest level since the agreement took effect in 1994.

It may seem as though whatever Trump is against we favour, but it’s not just anti-Trumpism.

Peace defines Canada as much as war. Much has been made of the battle of Vimy Ridge as a defining moment for our country. However, peace played a significant role in shaping Canadian values. Pollster for Environics Institute, Michael Adams, says:

“In recent decades, Canadians have consistently named peacekeeping as their country’s most notable contribution to world affairs since Pearson’s Nobel Prize. This sentiment has held through both Canada’s World surveys that the Environics Institute has carried out, first in 2008 and in 2018 (Globe and Mail, April 16).”

Canadians are more connected than Americans. Anatoliy Gruzd, one of the authors of a recent report The State of Social Media in Canada, told CBC Radio’s Spark:

“Canada is one of the most connected countries in the world. There are twice as many Twitter users than the U.S. per capita. We are very outside-looking. We want to know world events (Mar. 11, 2018)”

Facebook is the most popular social medium with 84 per cent of Canadians having an account. YouTube is second at 59 per cent.

Canada is a nation of immigrants and, unlike the current U.S. president, we value them as an asset not a liability. Canadians look to the world, not only because trade is vital to our economy and to keep in touch with families in home countries, but because we see ourselves as part of a global community.