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Posted: November 22, 2020

Too little, too late fuelling the COVID-19 surge

“Perceptions,” by Gerry Warner

Op-Ed Commentary

“Break the circuit” is the message now as COVID-19 surges again in B.C. with the  province averaging more than 500 new infections daily and 321 deaths to date (Nov. 20) and more than 11,000 deaths in Canada and more than 1.3 million worldwide.

It’s a grim picture and it’s not getting any better and indeed could get a lot worse if the circuit doesn’t indeed get broken. But saying it and doing it are two entirely different things as every day we fumble with our masks, wash our hands raw and still manage to feel guilty that we’re not doing enough.

At times like this I often hear the most tiresome cliché of all rattling around in the back of my brain – “timing is everything.” Those who say this believe timing is the most important factor in success or failure. Can this really be true? Would it even apply to COVID-19? Because if it does the pandemic could well be the worst timing screwup in history. So, I determined to find out.

I’m not going to play the blame game here. It’s generally accepted everywhere that COVID-19 originated in a “wet market” in Wuhan, China, where exotic wild animal  meat is sold along with other culinary fare. From Wuhan, it quickly spread in China and the rest of the world after the Chinese initially bungled its control efforts.

But once the Chinese authorities acknowledged their mistakes, they quickly introduced a rigid lock-down program that brought the pandemic to heel much faster than happened – and is still happening – in  the west, including Canada and especially the US.

Now make sure you’re sitting down for this next information. According to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Centre – the recognized international authority on all Corona medical matters – as of Nov. 20 some 252,535 Americans had died from Corona, but only 4,742 in China. In Canada close to three Canadians have died for every corona death in China. How can this be? Isn’t modern Western medicine supposed to be superior to ancient Chinese ways? Don’t we have a much higher standard of living and a better health care system than communist China? Not when it comes to COVID-19 apparently.

An article in the Oct. 18 issue of The Lancet, generally considered the most prestigious medical journal in the world, gives great insight on why Western countries have failed so miserably in fighting COVID-19.

“The speed of China’s response was the crucial factor,” says Gregory Poland, Director of the Vaccine  Research Group at the Mayo Clinic.  “They moved very quickly to stop transmission. Other countries, even though they had much longer to prepare for the arrival of the virus, delayed their response and that meant they lost control.”

Wuhan was immediately put on a strict lockdown lasting 76 days. Schools were shuttered, transportation movement was severely curtailed and people were virtually confined to their homes with only one person allowed to go out for food every few days and mask wearing outside was mandatory. Three new hospitals were built in a matter of days to treat COVID-19 victims.

There were other factors too, says Poland. “Commitment to the greater good is engrained in the culture; there is not the hyper-individualism that characterizes parts of the USA and driven most of the resistance to the countermeasures against the coronavirus.”

Meanwhile, the government in Wuhan hosted a big pool party in August for all the people who had recovered from the disease. A local newspaper unapologetically said the event stood as “a reminder to countries grappling with the virus that strict preventive measures have a payback.”

But “strict preventive measures” don’t go down well with Western notions of freedom and rugged individualism. Many in Canada and the US are still refusing to wear masks or complaining angrily about wearing them. Despite the excitement over possible COVID vaccines, surveys in the US indicate that close to 50% of Americans will refuse to be vaccinated. No doubt some Canadians will do the same.

“Be kind. Be calm. Be safe,” BC Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry famously said. Maybe the saintly Bonnie should have added, “and get your butt in gear while doing it.” November is here and so is the Second Wave.

– Gerry Warner is a retired journalist, who so far is free from COVID.

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