COVID steps: success or overreaction?

It’s fashionable in some circles to use the relatively low COVID-19 death rate in Canada as proof that our governments — particularly the one in Ottawa — overreacted and shut down the economy for nothing back in March.

What this argument ignores is the fact that the safety measures were put in place precisely so that we could keep the death rate relatively low.

What would have happened had our governments not done what they did to slow the spread of the virus? You could counter that this is pure speculation, but it isn’t. The answer lies just across the 49th parallel.

As of late last week, the United States had had more than six million cases and 184,000 deaths. Canada has roughly 10 percent of the American population, so one could assume that if conditions were the same on both sides of the border, then Canada should have 600,000 cases and 18,000 deaths.

But that’s not what happened. Canada has had approximately 126,000 cases and slightly more than 9,000 deaths. I believe that’s because conditions haven’t been the same on both sides of the border.

This reminds me of a debate occurring in Saskatoon over a road.

When the city built a new bridge a few years ago, it also had to build a new road to connect it with nearby neighbourhoods. The wide, double-lane road makes its way primarily through countryside, including an environmentally sensitive area.

The decision was made to keep the speed limit through that area to 50 km-h to protect wildlife, even though the driving experience is more similar to a highway than a residential street.

The move appears to have worked because few deer have been killed on the road. This, of course, led some to argue that the lower speed limit was unnecessary because few deer have been killed, ignoring the obvious argument that it was likely the lower speed limit that prevented the wildlife collisions.

The same goes for the debate over COVID-19 safety measures.

Sure, the extraordinary steps that governments took in this country to prevent the kinds of outbreaks seen in other parts of the world hammered our economy, resulting in the kind of public spending not seen since the Second World War and that could damage our economy for years to come.

However, it’s credible to argue that without those extraordinary steps, things could have been much, much worse.

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