A lot has changed since the last blog post I wrote.
First and foremost, there’s good news. Modelling suggests that BC’s social distancing attempts are actually flattening the curve (!😊😃!), and that BC’s hospitals are “reasonably prepared” for a surge in people sick from COVID-19. Hooray for BC! We’re doing well. Our efforts are working.
Second, the Liberal government made a power grab which would have given Bill Morneau the power to raise or lower any taxes he wished for the indefinite future (or so I’ve read). The Conservatives and the NDP strongly opposed this, thank goodness, and defeated the bill that would have allowed the Liberals such powers. It was interesting to note that many of the legal pundits I follow on twitter were making decidedly American arguments against the Liberal motion when they cried out “no taxation without representation!” The British tradition, which emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries, was one where the members of Parliament were just taken to represent the people’s will. The American tradition actually emerged in England the 15th and 16th centuries, but disappeared over time. So I guess Canada is indeed moving closer towards the American view of political philosophy than the British one. Honestly, I can’t complain. Considering also that the Liberals actually attempted this, it has now become the obligation of every Canadian citizen to pay even more careful attention to the decisions and reasoning of our government.
Next, I think that the credibility of the WHO and our experts is starting to crack and crumble. This was one article that did it. It shows a Canadian government which is more concerned with the prevention of fear and discrimination’s spread, rather than the prevention of COVID-19 in Canada. It shows a Dr. Teresa Tam who says that shutting down borders doesn’t actually do anything to stop the spread of the virus, “based on evidence”, but then a couple weeks later, Dr. Tam saying that borders should be closed. It shows that the Canadian government did not have a grasp on the fact that people needed to self-isolate. It shows a Canadian government repeating over and over that Canada’s risk level is “low” (how do they calculate this in the first place?!). It shows a WHO which is primarily concerned with China appeasement and SJW moralizing that keeps borders open. And lastly, it shows how the small but mighty democracy of Taiwan was able to stave off COVID-19 from decimating their population, which remains true to this day.
I will say however one thing in support of the government, which, when they did this, probably had good intentions in mind. They resisted (or rather, dismissed) requests to force people to self quarantine after they came back from international trips. While I see now, from hindsight, that this was the wrong move to make, I appreciate that they were trying to retain our liberty. And secondly, on Jan 29, when Dr. Tam said that asymptomatic cases don’t transmit, I didn’t know that COVID-19 would have blown up to be the thing it is today, but I think Tam could have.
This viral video did in the WHO for me. It shows the deputy general of the WHO Bruce Aylward (a Canadian to boot!) pretending he didn’t hear questions about Taiwan, and then hanging up after the reporter persisted. It was very sad to watch. It is also unnecessary to dance to the rhythm of repressive China’s drum! When SARS broke out in 2003, the then Director General of WHO Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland criticized China for trying to cover up its responsibility in unleashing SARS. We should and are able to expect more from our leaders in the face of Chinese pressure.
Our “experts” as well are becoming more suspect. In my last blog post, I wrote that while expert knowledge is useful and great, but it can also lead to arrogance and totalitarianism. The timeline article I linked to above reveals this slightly. Our government and health leaders made decisions on the basis of data. Dr. Tam, for example, thought that because there wasn’t much evidence to show that asymptomatic people could spread the virus, there was no need to have people self isolate. This turned out to be wrong – asymptomatic people can indeed transfer the virus to others, as Sophie Trudeau did to Idris Elba. I think the issue here was that they were making decisions solely “based on data”. The issue is that absence of evidence is taken for evidence of absence, something that Nassim Taleb has pointed out is a flaw in intellectuals. Dr. Tam thought that because there wasn’t much evidence to show that asymptomatic people spread it, that therefore they probably don’t spread it.
This was the wrong assumption to make.
In situations of incomplete information, you assume the worst and take as many precautions as you can, and then you can disprove your precautions once you have reliable data to show that they are unnecessary. I’m not saying that she should have advocated for a lockdown of the state. I’m saying that she should have still told Canadians to practice social distancing, hand washing, and wearing bandanas/masks as much as possible. These things make a difference, however marginally, and by not asking us to take these precautions, she let community transmission spread. Luckily, we seem to have pulled up our pants since two weeks ago, and we are flattening the curve. That being said, this is a big issue with these data people, as Taleb points out. How about this next time? For every person who dies in Canada who had COVID-19, we remove $1 from their salary. Skin in the game.
The whole “don’t wear masks because they don’t actually help” is also looking to be false. Dr. Teresa Tam said for example that “[w]earing masks when you’re well is not an effective measure. Sometimes it can actually present some risks, as you’re putting your fingers up and down on your face, removing your mask, putting them next to your eyes.” The first reason for why this is wrong is because it sounds to me like transmission based on touching surfaces and then your eyes is not as dangerous as inhaling droplets from someone infected. This also leads to the consequence that those who wear masks are shamed and seen as dangerous and thus disgusting, because the only people who wear masks are not everyone/the cautious, but rather, only those who are sick. But the second and more damning reason for why it’s wrong is because it might have been a lie! They may have just been saying that because they worried about a mask shortage and wished to prevent a panic buy of masks. But in the process, they took away the idea from people’s heads that covering your mouth and nose is a good idea to prevent illness, which means that people were not going to continue thinking about wearing substitutes like bandanas and scarfs. They don’t work nearly as well as actual masks, but they offer more protection than nothing if coupled with the self-discipline of not touching your eyes and face. So here’s some more stuff which leads to a loss of credibility of our leaders, at least in my eyes.
That being said, one of my regrets so far has been not writing a blog post every single day on what was going on re. COVID-19. Why? Because we’re making history! When it comes time to judge our leaders, we must judge them fairly. To be fair as a judge of history, you must make decisions from the perspective of someone in history. Hindsight is 20-20: it is easy to say that the government should have done x, y, and z, because “look at what happened!” But this is unfair because they didn’t have the information that we have now. The question then is how on earth some people got the diagnosis and cure correct, and also, how we know that they knew it, rather than just being lucky. The two people at the top of my mind are Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Claire Lehman. Taleb I know, more or less. In situations of uncertainty, you take precaution. In this sense, he is lucky, except he’s lucky both ways. Lehman I have no idea. But these two are both right on point.
I for one have changed my mind from before. I am unsure that the UK’s original plan for COVID-19 is the best thing to pursue. There’s evidence to suggest that economies bounce back better when public health authorities take more precautions rather than less. I was getting pretty homesick (or outside sick? I was sick of being at home) and that may have clouded my judgement. But this week I heard BC’s good news so I’ve cheered up a bit and now think that social distancing is an acceptable compromise. Here’s to hoping it stays that way.