Do governments count lockdown costs?

Two minutes with the Justice Centre

Statistics Canada reports that 15,600 Canadians died with COVID-19 last year. This despite government restrictions on schools, businesses, gyms, houses of worship, and recreational and entertainment venues.

What we don’t know, because governments apparently haven’t asked, is what are the human costs of the lockdowns themselves.

But, at least now we know part of the reason why. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) self-assessment of its own COVID-19 performance makes for sad reading.

PHAC was established after the 2003 SARS crisis, specifically to advise Ottawa on severe health threats – like pandemics. But ironically when COVID-19 appeared, it admitted it had shockingly underperformed.

In a ‘lessons learned’ report, the agency concluded it “did not have the breadth and depth of human resources required to support an emergency response of this never-seen-before magnitude, complexity and duration.”

It lacked “public health expertise, including epidemiologists, psychologists, behavioural scientists and physicians at senior levels.”

That explains a lot. For a year now, millions of Canadians have been forced out of work by government order, and been thereby reduced to poverty, loneliness, despair and even self-harm. But only those suffering know just how badly. Governments don’t, because the agencies they rely on – PHAC anyway – is not delivering the information.

It is a significant failure, and one that could have been avoided. Last year, it should have been an early and obvious federal priority to ensure reporting agencies such as PHAC had what they needed to do their jobs.

There was money: Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s Economic Update last year reported that provincially and federally, $593 billion has been allocated for government pandemic response. But it didn’t happen.

So we ask: Could Ottawa not have put a little of that borrowed fortune into understanding the enormous (and unevenly distributed) price that Canadians are paying for the lockdowns?

Canadians deserve to know the unreported costs of lockdowns, of suicide, mental illness, alcoholism, family distress, ruined educations, drug abuse, delayed or cancelled surgeries and diagnostics and the despair and hopelessness that afflict so many more of us.

This casual government approach to gathering the data needed for making informed decisions is beyond unacceptable. Good policy requires that governments know and communicate, not only the benefit of the good it means to do, but the cost of the unintended and unavoidable consequences.

Yet in Canada today, for lack of knowledge, people are suffering and dying. Governments must ask and answer the question: How many?

 

For more information, see the Justice Centre report:

Flying Blind: Governments’ hasty decisions to lock down Canadians while damaging public health and the economy

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