Implement more serious coronavirus prevention measures in Canada, now
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With a mortality rate of 1%, the highly contagious coronavirus is the largest public health crisis that Canada has faced in a generation. A vaccine will take 9 to 18 months to be ready; the earliest one could arrive is December 2020. We can't wait.
We need to flatten the curve now. We have the power to save the healthcare system from collapsing, and thousands of Canadians from premature deaths.
On March 12, Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu stated that 30 to 70% of Canadians can expect to be infected with COVID-19 (coronavirus). These numbers are not inevitable, and they're unacceptable. An infection rate of 30% in Canada means at least 11 million will get sick and and 110,000 will die. As other countries implement stringent protocols to contain the outbreak and provide adequate medical care, Canada has chosen a do-nothing approach to save its economy over its people. We should follow the approach of Italy by taking precautions rather than that of Iran, which is digging mass graves.
Of Canada's 37 million citizens, 5.9 million are seniors. At an 30% infection rate, 1.7 million seniors will become sick: hundreds of thousands of them will need hospitalization. Canadian hospitals and hospital staff are currently over capacity. SARS had just 243 patients in Canada; over the next 9 months, we can expect thousands of people to become too afflicted with COVID-19 to simply recover at home. While a large portion of the 11 million Canadians expected to become sick can recover with no additional support from the medical system, that system will not be able to handle the coming influx of thousands of new patients who acute, inpatient treatment. Around 10 to 20% of cases require hospitalization, 5% of cases require the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), and around 2.5% require very intensive help, with items such as ventilators or ECMO (extra-corporeal oxygenation).
Without social distancing measures and a significant number of new hospital beds now, Canada will experience a health care crisis and tragedy on a scale never before seen in this country. Before COVID-19, we didn't have enough hospital beds or health care workers. Now?
Now is the time to act—we can't wait until the number of COVID-19 cases grows. We must act immediately to save thousands of lives. Any taxpayer money spent on prevention will pay dividends in the coming months and years, helping to save the Canadian economy from a total shutdown.
1. Slow the spread: Mandatory two-week quarantine for all Canadians and non-Canadians arriving in Canada from all affected areas. The quarantine would be required regardless of presence of symptoms at the airport. Currently, those traveling from Iran, Italy, or any other heavily affected areas are not told to stay home.
2. Protect the vulnerable: Heightened cleaning protocols for all public spaces, including public transit, living facilities for those most vulnerable to the disease, grocery stores and pharmacies, hospitals, and doctors offices. The virus can live for up to 9 days on most surfaces.
3. Help people protect themselves: Allow small businesses to defer taxes and offer two weeks of employment insurance (EI) for all Canadians showing symptoms or told to stay home, including employees and contractors. Currently, Canadians feeling symptoms are encouraged to go to work by a lack of paid sick days.
4. Care for the sick with 170,000 new hospital beds: Expensive, but absolutely necessary—even if we build only 5% of those beds, a lofty target will create the mandate necessary to act. Canadian hospitals are not equipped to handle a pandemic or provide even basic care to those affected enough to need hospitalization; our hospitals are over capacity already. Immediate construction or conversion of existing buildings to create an additional 170,000 hospital beds is the minimum amount required—it is just 10% of the seniors who could become infected, at the conservative 30% infection rate estimate. Converting conference centres, armouries, or disused health care facilities, and even new builds could help thousands of Canadians survive, rather than dying while waiting for health care. Canada's hospitals are already over capacity, and these facilities could be repurposed later to act as nursing and retirement homes. Canada is a first world country, and we can't leave our citizens to die without proper medical care at home. Every new bed will help.
5. Help health care workers help others: Implement new programs that will allow medicine and nursing students to participate in COVID-19 care, while sending all health care workers over the age of 70 home. Create a three-month expedited personal support worker (PSW) training program in British Columbia, Quebec, and Ontario; make it free for Canadian citizens to recruit the thousands of new health care workers required. The global supply of nurses is at 0. We will need thousands of new workers and volunteers to even provide a basic level of care.
6. Implement greater social distancing measures: Increase fines for breaking quarantine and implement parole-type check in programs for those told to stay at home. Require cancellation of any gathering of more than 500 people. Mandate work-at-home policies for all non-essential employers, and shut down all retail businesses except for pharmacies and grocers, following Italy's example. It's lockdown time. Not tomorrow, not in a few days, not at X cases: now is the time. We can save thousands of lives by implementing a lock down today to slow the spread while the health care system prepares.
These six minimal, but essential measures will reduce deaths in Canada; they are prudent and necessary. Taking these measures will not only help Canada survive the coronavirus crisis, they will help us thrive over the coming decades by solving hospital bed and staff shortages that will only worsen.
110,000 dead Canadians is unimaginable and untenable—and that's the conservative estimate. At the higher estimate of a 70% contagion rate, 259,000 Canadians will die from COVID-19. We must do everything we can. Justin Trudeau and Patty Hajdu must implement these measures now.
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