Your money or your life? Scott Moe’s tragic miscalculation
This opinion piece was written by Steven Lewis, a formerly Saskatchewan-based health policy consultant, Nazeem Muhajarine, epidemiologist and professor at the University of Saskatchewan, and Cory Neudorf, professor of public health and epidemiology at the ‘University of Saskatchewan.
For more information on CBC Opinion Section, please see the Faq.
Scott Moe won’t budge. There will be no change in its pandemic control strategy, based on its belief in how the pandemic is affecting the economy.
For the Saskatchewan premier, it’s a compromise: the more you lock down, the greater the economic damage, causing so much harm it outweighs the benefit of keeping the virus at bay.
He categorically rejects measures that have kept infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths low in Australia, Taiwan, South Korea, New Zealand and elsewhere.
Moe’s gold standard involves voluntary behavior change, implementing as few restrictions as possible until later, and delaying vaccines until herd immunity is produced. As he said on March 30, “the way forward is vaccines, but no more public health measures.”
If the Prime Minister is correct that major economic damage is the unacceptable price of a convincing victory over the virus, it becomes a choice scenario: your money or your life.
It was an important theoretical debate at the start of the pandemic. After more than a year, the evidence to settle it begins to emerge. This does not support Premier Moe’s assumptions.
Watch the data
Analysis Posted in Nature At the end of January, the relationship between restrictions on mobility in workplaces, the retail sector and leisure facilities (a measure of the economic downturn) and the death rate from COVID in 33 highly developed jurisdictions, including Canada and 10 US states.
There is a lot of math and sophisticated methods involved in analysis, but here are the highlights:
- Places that have delayed the imposition of restrictions have seen the number of cases rise, leading to more deaths.
- Eventually, the alarming numbers forced these places to impose longer and tighter lockdowns to bring the pandemic under control. Over time, they disrupted economic activity more than countries that acted faster and more comprehensively at the start.
- The longer duration – along with the stops and starts – ultimately resulted in a greater economic loss.
In short, many countries – including most of Canada – have created a situation where people and the economy have suffered needlessly.
What were the fatal missteps?
The key to success was straight out of the preventive health manual: detect early and react decisively. East Asian countries and the Atlantic provinces of Canada that have been so successful in locking down quickly and hard while the number of cases was still low, have sped up testing and tracing and quickly flattened the curve. They could then lift the restrictions and maintain them permanently or reimpose them with sharp but short “circuit breakers” to quell further outbreaks.
In contrast, countries that have waited too long, imposed as few restrictions as possible and avoided mandatory measures have seen their caseloads rise, crushing their ability to track testing and contact tracing. More severe measures became inevitable and had to stay in place longer.
The lukewarm early response, intended to shrink the economy somewhat, backfired dramatically. It was the short-term gain that bought the long-term pain.
Saskatchewan did relatively well during the first wave of the pandemic. The government could have followed Atlantic Canada’s lead in the summer and early fall to keep the number of cases as low as possible. Instead, the Prime Minister developed a false sense of confidence, promising voters during his fall election campaign that he would not impose another lockdown despite clear warnings of an impending second wave over the winter. .
Moe is proud to have had the fewest restrictions of any province, even though our rate of active cases has often been the highest in the country in recent months.
Calls from health workers and public health officials were ignored. Lessons learned from successful jurisdictions have not been learned. – Steven Lewis, Nazeem Muhajarine and Cory Neudorf
The Prime Minister also miscalculated the extent to which he could orchestrate economic activity. Just because people are allowed to travel, eat in a restaurant, or go to a bar, doesn’t mean that. Many will suspend or reduce normal economic activities that they deem dangerous.
As the pandemic persists and with each new report of a 34-year-old man fighting for life in intensive care, the Prime Minister’s claim that everything is going according to plan rings hollow.
better late than never
The Prime Minister’s initial gamble and his stubborn refusal to change course in light of the evidence has hurt both people and the economy. He ignored one of the fundamental lessons of economics: uncertainty is the enemy of the status quo.
Calls from health workers and public health officials were ignored. Lessons learned from successful jurisdictions have not been learned. Communications have been deliberately and maliciously ambiguous.
So here we are in the second year. And now?
As more infectious and deadly variants take hold and the third wave swells, Saskatchewan finds itself in a dangerous place, walking blindly through what could be the most dangerous time yet. The intensive care units are already full and the virus has not waved the white flag.
Vaccines should ultimately do what politics failed to do. The pandemic could be behind us in a few months. We hope.
Damage already caused cannot be repaired. There is a lot to answer. The math may come later, but the government urgently needs to institute measures that have a chance to avert the evil on the horizon.
Enlightenment is long overdue, but better to delay than ever.
This column is part of the Opinion section of CBC. For more information on this section, please read this publisher’s blog and our FAQs.
Would you like to write to us? We welcome submissions for opinions and perspectives from Saskatchewan residents who wish to share their thoughts on the news of the day, issues affecting their community, or who have a compelling personal story to share. You don’t have to be a professional writer!
Click here to find out more about what we’re looking for, then email email@example.com with your idea.