How much do we really have to shut down to keep Canada safe? When will life be able to return to normal?


As public demands escalate for governments to do more to combat the ever-worsening novel coronavirus pandemic, two distinct camps seem to be forming: one essentially calling for a lockdown of the country, the other demanding a massive expansion of testing, isolation and monitoring.

In other words, some are urging a “close everything down – everyone stay at home” approach with all the economic and social fallout that portends, while others are urging an aggressive effort to identify and isolate the carriers of the virus. The United States and much of the world so far have gone the former route.

In contrast, South Korea and some other Asian countries have put more of their resources into mass testing and then aggressively isolating and monitoring those who are positive. The evidence strongly suggests that the “South Korean approach” is getting much better results than the “American approach”.

The truth of the matter, however, is at this stage of the pandemic both approaches are urgently needed in Canada. Ideally, we would have engaged in aggressive testing and isolation in the initial days of the breakout (when most cases were travel related) and put most of our resources there.

Unfortunately, we didn’t. And as local transmission now accounts for about 65% of new cases, it is crucial that the social distancing approach be used in conjunction with the testing and isolation approach.

The problem is that we are implementing both approaches badly – we are using a broad stroke, scattergun approach in both efforts when we should be using a more sophisticated, targeted approach.

In other words, there is a surgical approach to both “social distancing” and “testing and isolating”. The important thing is not to choose between the two but to take a targeted approach to both so as to limit the massive economic collateral damage that the scattergun approach causes.

The “close it all down – everyone stay at home” approach to social distancing will result in severe long-term social, economic and public health consequences related to an enormous disruption of normal life. All “non-essential” businesses are closed in most provinces, all out-of-country travel and most social gatherings are banned — these measures will result in long lasting social and economic damage, possibly graver than the direct toll of the virus itself.

The stock market will bounce back in time, but many small businesses and good paying jobs that average people depend on, will disappear forever. The unemployment, impoverishment and despair likely to result will be the public health scourges of the future.

We are flattening the economy while at the same time doing, at best, a mediocre job of containing the virus.

I need to be perfectly clear here. I agree with the consensus view that we need to increase our social distancing and testing/isolation efforts. But in ramping up our efforts, Canada needs to undertake both social distancing and testing in a much more highly targeted and evidenced-based way than it has to date.

Want a discount? Become a member by purchasing Digital Subscription!