Covid -19 and Lychee fruit

If I do x will y follow? And when y occurs what will happen next?

Otherwise known as thinking two steps ahead.

Not difficult. Let’s go back 12 weeks

X: If we leave our borders open people carrying Covid- 19  will enter our country.

Y: And if that happens the disease will spread so rapidly ( as we know from the experience of  China,  Iran and  Italy) that, if left unchecked, within three months -four months tops- more than half the country will be infected and  tens  of thousands will die.

So what did we do?

You may be reading this in any country in the world. What happened in my country likely happened in yours.

Canada’s first two cases arrived  from China on January 25. One boarded the plane exhibiting symptoms. The next day federal health officials said the risk of an outbreak in Canada remained low.  ( Right.) Two days later, a gentleman who-you guessed  it- had also been to China became our third case. The fourth case was identified on January 31 as a woman who had just returned from-wait for it- China. Our fifth and sixth cases did not arrive from China but had just entertained guests from- can you believe it?- China. The seventh arrived from China. The eighth, diagnosed February 20, had not been to China but Iran where the disease was already raging,  introduced by a businessman who, having returned from China, gave thanks for his safe delivery by visiting the shrine filled city of Qom where thousands of pilgrims walk the streets kissing anything believed to be holy.

And people continued to stream in.

But as China’s rate of infection was increasing by 30% a day until it locked down an entire  province, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation ( our national, state subsidized television channel) was offering   interminable processions of health ministers, infectious disease control specialists, public health officers and professors, none of whom called for the obvious  closing of the border and no interviewer that I saw  thought to ask them.   Instead we were told that China is on the other side of the world, that our  infected people are being treated and that we have a great  health system-the reference being to that same health system that  now finds itself desperately short of test kits, personal protective equipment, isolation beds, ventilators and  the 55 million N 95 masks,  stockpiled after the SARS epidemic which it belatedly realized were destroyed (Oops!).

On March 11 Dr. Eileen de Villa, head of Public Health Toronto, was interviewed  on a provincially owned station, TV Ontario: “We have had the opportunity to observe what is happening in other jurisdictions… Every time we find a case we are on it absolutely, following up with everybody who is a close contact of that case.”

March 11 was almost the start of  March Break (when the schools close and everyone who can afford to goes on vacation).  Asked whether people should travel to Massachusetts, a state that had declared a state of emergency, she did not say: “NO! You’d have to be crazy to do that!” but avoided answering with a yes or no. Asked if people returning from such places should self isolate she said they should self monitor. In other words: enjoy your holiday, come back infected and if in fourteen days you develop symptoms we’ll be on you “absolutely” and we’ll contact the 500 people you’ve  infected during that time and the  25,000 people they’ve infected etc. etc.

This is not a case of hindsight being 20/20. It is a case of all our experts having  all the information in the world to be able  to accurately predict what would happen and for some reason being unable to think two steps ahead.

Canada is relatively lucky. Only hundreds of thousands will become infected, only thousands  will die, only tens of thousands of businesses will fail.   Millions are legally prevented from earning their livings and the federal government is frantically printing $82,000,000,000 Can. it doesn’t have for a rescue package. Luckily in Canada we have lots of trees. By July -hopefully 2020 – I predict  we will be legally allowed to climb out from under the rubble that used to be  our economy to return to jobs that no longer exist at least until the second wave hits after the relaxing of restrictions.

Israel is “luckier” than Canada. With  ¼ of Canada’s population it has as of April 18 had only 1/8 the number of Covid -19 deaths (1,420 vs. 164.)

This is the time for us to pull together. That should not immunize our public health epidemiologists who should have intervened aggressively before things got so out of hand, from deserved criticism.  An algorithm would have done a better job. If they are not held accountable they will make things even worse than they need be and fail again when the next zoonotic plague sweeps the planet.  (And one will so long as we continue to encroach on territories and species that ought to be left alone.)

Never  has the world  been so awash in degrees, certificates and paper qualifications all framed and hanging on walls, never so buried in awards upon awards for anything imaginable. Yet none of this expertise led to figuring out something really simple when it was needed: Covid-19 is like lychee fruit. We don’t grow it in Canada and you don’t grow it in your country. And if we don’t import it we simply won’t have it.

About the Author
Murray Teitel works in Toronto as a barrister and writes art criticism and other journalism on a freelance basis.