In times of crisis, we reap the benefits of the society we have built around us. This is why knowing that I live in Canada lets me sleep better at night. Although the novel coronavirus causing the global pandemic is virtually identical in all parts of the world, it is having dramatically different consequences in different countries. How countries are dealing with this imminent threat is rooted in their social and political fabric.
Good governance can go a long way to mitigating the impact of the virus. In Canada, we are seeing federal and provincial policymakers basing decisions on available scientific evidence and being consistent in their approach and messaging to Canadians. They look to experts in public health to guide them with the timing and intensity of health protection measures.
Provincial and federal governments are also putting people’s safety before the economy, instituting strict social distancing measures and travel advisories knowing full well that these measures will grind the economy to a halt. Opposing parties have set aside political ideology to work together and pass laws quickly for getting money into the pockets of Canadians. We only have to turn our attention south of the border to see what the consequences of the pandemic could look like if we lacked these aspects of good governance.
A month ago, few people knew about the discipline of public health. Today Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s top public health official, is a household name. She leads the province’s public health system: a robust mechanism that provides health protection, disease prevention and health promotion.
Countries with good public health infrastructure are able to identify and isolate infectious cases early in an outbreak, trace and monitor contacts closely and mandate measures such as social distancing swiftly and effectively. This slows down the spread of disease and flattens the epidemiological curve. In Italy, where early and effective public health action was lacking, people who might have survived with appropriate treatment are dying because the health care system has become overwhelmed.
Here in Alberta, we have become accustomed to receiving daily updates on the extent of infections in our province and the corresponding measures to counteract the spread. Anyone with an internet connection can get detailed information on case numbers, distribution and demographics.
When leaders give clear and reliable information to the public, we can better appreciate the gravity of the situation and take measures to protect our health and that of our family, friends and community members.
Transparency allays anxiety and engenders trust, so when our personal liberties are curtailed, we understand why and are better able to comply.
One can only wonder if transparency and freedom of speech had been part of the social fabric in China, would the world be faced with this pandemic today? Instead of muzzling the medical doctor who sounded the alarm on early COVID-19 cases, if Chinese authorities had heeded his warning, the outbreak may well have been contained within Wuhan and never spread outside.
We have many reasons to be confident that our country is dealing well with this pandemic. But we can do better.
In good times and in bad, we can remind our politicians that the economy works in service of the people and not the other way around. We can urge policymakers to restore funding to public health systems that provincial governments have scaled back in recent years.
We can use the same resolve we are showing to combat COVID-19 to rally against other more sustained and disastrous threats like climate change. And most importantly, we can all work together to address the gaps in our society that create poverty, homelessness and inequality. Because in our interconnected society, if some of us are vulnerable, we are all vulnerable.
By Vamini Selvanadan© 2020. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons CC BY 4.0 license. This article was originally published in the Rocky Mountain Outlook on April 16, 2020. Photo credit: CDC from Pexels
- COVID-19 info for Albertans (alberta.ca)
- CBC News. What countries did right and wrong in responding to the pandemic
- Government of Canada. Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Resource Plan (canada.ca)