An enforced country-wide quarantine, general income support, and suspension of rents

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An Open Letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

The novel coronavirus has caused immense damage in many countries, with 18,574 deaths and over 415,000 people infected worldwide as of March 24, 2020. The data clearly shows the exponential growth of infections. 

This letter explains why a country-wide enforced quarantine is urgently needed now and that general income support, and suspensions of rents for both businesses and individuals are recommended to help control the damage that the COVID-19 pandemic will bring to Canadians. 

To illustrate Canada's place right now we know the following. Canada has 1,739 confirmed cases as of today (March 24, 2020), even though only a limited percentage of the Canadian population has had access to COVID-19 testing. This level of cases put us in the top 20 of affected counties. The growth of infections is just starting but is on the same exponential curve that we have seen in other countries - estimates suggest 30-70 percent of the population will be infected. As a share of our population, we are at a similar place to Italy three weeks ago. There is no reason to suspect that we are on a different path. 

This puts Canadians at risk through community transmission. More concerningly, we have a disproportionately aged society. 18 percent of our population is over the age of 65. The COVID-19 gives the elderly a death rate of more than 10 percent. Many people will lose their lives. Furthermore, as evidenced by the number of doctors, nurses, ventilators and hospital beds, we are not prepared for the number of cases to continue rising exponentially. Hospitals are already nearing capacity and this pandemic has just started. 

There are measures in place to socially distance Canadians, including closing bars, schools, and restaurants. These measures are a good starting point. However, more must be done to stop the spread of the disease. Businesses and consumers are scared as illustrated in the recent confidence data below. 

The best measure to prevent the spread of the disease, as evidenced by countries like China, Italy, Spain, and Germany, is enforced quarantine. This is what our country needs now. Indeed, this is what has been enacted in Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Saskatchewan in different capacities. However, a general enforced quarantine enacted immediately would substantially help decrease the spread of COVID-19 before we find ourselves in the situation that countries like Italy, Spain, and Germany find themselves today. Some exceptions to this quarantine would include essential workers, such as doctors, nurses, policemen, and firemen, essential travel, and transport of needed goods.  

Further, in order to protect Canadians, including the most vulnerable among us, a simpler and more efficient system needs to be put in place to distribute our social safety net. Beyond the application of the benefits already outlined by the strong actions of the Government of Canada, now is the time to distribute funds to the general population to ease the general sense of anxiety - to let people know that when this passes, they will be able to get on with their businesses, work, and lives in general. This type of policy has been enacted in differing ways in Denmark and the United States, taking advantage of the low interest rate environment. This funding could be means-tested after distribution using income tax.

Beyond this, actions taken to allow mortgage deferrals are excellent initiatives, but should be accompanied by deferrals of rents for both individuals and small businesses. People and small businesses need to maintain certainty in these trying times. Without funds coming in, people need to know they won't have to shut their doors. Furthermore, this would help Canadians who will inevitably experience unemployment due to the substantial decrease in demand that we have already started to experience, and which will linger for some time to come. 

Academics around the world are assisting their countries with best-practice research. Some of those measures are already taking place elsewhere. Today, we feel obligated to add to the existing wave of concerned citizens who believe more can be done now to reduce harm later. 

Prime Minister, every day counts, every hour counts. A country-wide enforced quarantine has been used in other impacted countries, but often only after significant deaths and stress to their health care system. Other countries are only now starting to look at the distribution of funds to the general population. There is no reason to believe that Canada will not see the same level of death and stress as elsewhere. Let's take a leading role and do everything we can to decrease the harm that is to come.