Canada is at war with COVID-19: We must survive and prosper again

by George Petrolekas

If there ever was a time to address issues in a apolitical fashion, this is the time. What should unify us is that we are all pitted against a common threat, that does not discriminate between us. Equally, that we are all united in a vision of a western, liberal democratic, and open market future and believe in the the defence of that future.

When bullets are not flying, and bombs are not dropping, and no physical damage is evident, it is difficult to believe that we are in a war; but we are in a war. This unseen enemy’s weapons, are having the same effect as physical weapons. There has been a 30 per cent decline in wealth in the last six weeks alone. Nearly 8,000 of our fellow global citizens have died, out of 185,000 who have been infected. These numbers will be outdated by tomorrow. This enemy, respects no boundaries, no jurisdictional powers, no political system, no faith, nor ethnic grouping or social class. It attacks humanity as a whole.

Because the physical carnage is not evident, we rely on imperfect statistics of infections for decisions yet this virus is outpacing our ability to collect data on which decisions are based. And so, one jurisdiction closes its schools, while another keeps them open. The mathematics of this virus make it clear that all of us; nations, provinces; in short all people and communities will be affected. The key, is how rapidly all governments impose unified measures to retard the spread of the virus, so that we emerge with the most lives preserved and our economies intact.

To emerge strengthened from this challenge facing us governments need to consider some or all of these measures. Some are inherently undemocratic in that they restrict freedom of choice, yet paradoxically they are measures needed to ensure that we emerge as intact as possible:

  1. Market Trading has become irrational, rising and crashing simply on a word uttered by a politician or a businessperson. Unfortunately this volatility reinforces people’s fears that we are in an out of control situation and that their life savings are being materially damaged. Governments should consider closing stock markets for a short period of time until the various policies being enacted take root, and the current situation stabilizes. that is not possible, regulatory authorities should consider lowering the existing circuit breaker limits from the current 7 per cent to 3 per cent, with trading halts being extended to a full day once the circuit breakers are tripped.
  2. Ground most domestic flights and only permit official travel if needed. Equally all international flights should be reduced to a bare sustainment level. This does help delay the spread. Some may argue that travel bans do not work, yet every health authority has traced all the initial footholds of the virus in their territories to persons who travelled. that logic applies to international travellers, it applies equally to domestic travel, especially in a nation as large as Canada.
  3. In crisis days and hours matter. With a doubling rate of three days, every day only adds to future pressures, as growth of this virus by transmission appears to be exponential. Immediately, across all jurisdictions, Federal, Provincial and Municipal, only stores necessary to the propagation of life should be permitted to stay open. Therefore, only pharmacies, grocery stores, corner stores, and perhaps hardware stores should be allowed to remain open and all other public spaces closed.
  4. People earning less than $50k a year, should have their taxes, or a proportion of their taxes reduced. Yes that will effect state revenues, but we need to provide a financial cushion for lower income earners. That also applies to state pensions This can be done quickly and with most people receiving refunds through direct deposit eliminates another reason to leave the home. In time, this will have to buttressed by other compensation and financial support plans.
  5. Start building or converting facilities into second tier health facilities. Keep hospital beds open for infected folks, but there are other patients that could be treated for injuries for example, in a secondary facility — Regardless, we may run out of treatment beds, if the expected numbers arrive . . . actually when they arrive— we are not immune to the math.
  6. From a foreign policy standpoint — we should be apply pressure on the Saudi’s and Russians to cease their price war. The decision to augment supply and drop prices with its corollary economic effects was entirely arbitrary and has only added to the sense of panic in this crisis.
  7. Impose limitations on irrational bulk buying at groceries to protect the supply line. Aside for limitations on quantities, governments in cooperation with grocers should reduce the total amount of products available for the foreseeable future. It isn’t important that we still have a choice all manners of coffees and sauces. This is all about protecting the supply chain. travel becomes difficult, if drivers become sick, if more border controls are imposed, we need to ensure that all the basics are being supplied, reducing the number of individual items which need to be transported and restocked, lessens the pressure on the supply line/chain . . . 
  8. People will have to leave their homes, buy food, to deposit checks, to perhaps fix something broken in their home. Social distancing is not enough in and of itself. Distancing covers the majority of the known transmission means, but we do know the virus survives on surfaces, and can be transmitted when people are asymptomatic. So in all cases, people should protectively mask, and wear gloves and wash their hands immediately on returning home.
  9. All governments in cooperation with broadcasters, cable companies, social media platforms and newspapers should adopt the socially responsible position taken by The Globe and Mail and LCN News in Quebec which dropped their paywalls and cable subscription fees for access. Obtaining accurate and responsibly reported information is more than ever critical. In this day and age of uncontrolled social media posting, any rumour or snake oil solution falsely attributed can cause falsehoods to take hold, or even produce panic and hysteria. In that vein, any Internet trolls (state sponsored or private) should be removed immediately, and if state sponsored sanctioned by any means available.
  10. Finally, as Canada's Jim Flaherty and Mark Carney knew in response to the financial crisis of 2008, that coordinated global efforts would be needed. At the moment, all government are reacting immediately but only in the scope of their own jurisdictions and their own citizens. That is logical, but in the very near term, global diplomacy will have to play a role in plotting our exit from the health and financial damage caused by this virus, and instituting many measures on a global scale, that this does not ever happen again in our lifetime.

There is no doubt this will be our annus horriblus . . . . we can and will eventually recover economically, but lives — when lost, never come back. Everything in these suggestions, is dedicated to that simple premise — that we must all survive and eventually prosper again.

George Petrolekas, a former Colonel and strategic advisor to senior military commanders, is a Fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute