Protecting an inadequate health care system by locking down the healthy

Two minutes with the Justice Centre

There is a simple sad truth about Canada’s Covid response. From the very start, the goal was never to protect Canadians, but to protect the Canadian health system.

Prime Minister Trudeau said so at the start, when he told CTV, “It takes time for the effects of our actions to be felt so if we don’t want our hospitals to be overwhelmed in the coming weeks, we need to make the right choices and we need to make them now.”(1)

Ontario Premier Doug Ford was also explicit: “We need to do everything in our power to protect our hospitals and our most vulnerable.”(2)

Hence, ‘two weeks to flatten the curve.’ Except that it wasn’t two weeks. It’s been more like two years and under the new lockdown approach, it has not been sick people quarantined to protect the healthy, it has been healthy people quarantined to protect the hospitals.

As recently as January 4, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney told Albertans: “The actions that we take now are critical to protect our health-care system from the impact of this highly transmissible Omicron variant of Covid-19.”(3)

In Ontario and Quebec, renewed harsh lockdowns and curfews banning Quebeckers from their streets at night are continuing the grievous economic damage Canadians have already suffered, and are riding roughshod over Charter freedoms.

Indeed, between enormous economic harms, excess deaths from missed surgeries and soaring mental illness, it’s beyond dispute that Canadians have paid an enormous price to protect the health system that is supposed to be protecting them.

Admittedly, 22 months ago when epidemiological experts(4) were predicting the deaths of 40 million people, 326,000 of them in Canada, few civil libertarians objected to a short time of restraint while experts established what we were dealing with.

However, Canada was already the home of the six-month waiting list(5) so it was no surprise that when it came to intensive care, Covid made it clear to Canadians how inadequate the medical system had been for years.

Ontario for example, with a population of 14.9 million(6), has 2,436 ICU beds(7). Pennsylvania, population 12.9 million(8), has 3,643(9). Alberta and Kentucky have the same population – 4.5 million. Yet, Kentucky funds 1,447 beds(10), Alberta just 271(11).

Wealthy British Columbia, with a population of 5.2 million(12), has 798 ICU beds, including surge capacity of 218(13). Alabama meanwhile, one of America’s less prosperous states also with a population of 5 million(14), has more than twice as many – 1,870(15).

In Canada, we don’t need to protect a sub-standard health care system; we need to fix it. It is insulting to tell Canadians it’s a priority to protect a health-care system that barely delivers at the best of times, and which is apparently drowning under the strain of Covid. If Covid and its variants are going to join Influenza as yearly tallies on the death statistics, the priority now and going forward must certainly be to protect Canadians, but to do it without violating their Charter rights.

To start with, that means a crash program to expand intensive care, and to train the people needed to run it.

If Kentucky can, surely Alberta can too.

1. https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/pm-trudeau-questioned-on-covid-19-projections-implores-people-to-stay-home-1.4879062 (2nd April 2020.)

2. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/covid-19-ontario-december-21-lockdown-orders-1.5849760 (21st December 2020.)

3. https://edmontonjournal.com/news/local-news/edmonton-alberta-covid-19-live-updates-january-4-2022-hihnshaw-kenney-vaccine-pfizer-health-care-teachers-school-quebec-ontario-wastewater-omicron-rapid-tests-variant 1.20 second mark.

4. Peter St. Onge and Gael Campan, “The Flawed Covid-19 Model that Locked Down Canada,” Montreal Economic Institute, June 2020 (referencing Neil M. Ferguson et al., “Impact of Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) to Reduce COVID-19 Mortality and Healthcare Demand,” Imperial College London, March 16, 2020.)
https://www.iedm.org/the-flawed-covid-19-model-that-locked-down-canada/

5. https://www.fraserinstitute.org/studies/waiting-your-turn-wait-times-for-health-care-in-canada-2021

6. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=1710000901

7. https://www.oha.com/Bulletins/COVID-19%20Capacity%20Slides%2006%20Jan%202022.pdf

8. https://www.kff.org/other/state-indicator/icu-beds/?currentTimeframe=0&selectedRows=%7B%22states%22:%7B%22all%22:%7B%7D%7D,%22wrapups%22:%7B%22united-states%22:%7B%7D%7D%7D&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22:%22Location%22,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D

9. https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/popest/2020s-state-total.html#par_textimage_1574439295

10. https://www.kff.org/other/state-indicator/icu-beds/?currentTimeframe=0&selectedRows=%7B%22states%22:%7B%22all%22:%7B%7D%7D,%22wrapups%22:%7B%22united-states%22:%7B%7D%7D%7D&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22:%22Location%22,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D

11. https://www.alberta.ca/stats/covid-19-alberta-statistics.htm#healthcare-capacity.
The chart (Figure 20) shows that Alberta briefly maintained 350 ICU beds during October of 2020.

12. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=1710000901

13. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mEuNrszVpCE

14. https://www.census.gov/data/tables/time-series/demo/popest/2020s-state-total.html#par_textimage_1574439295

15. https://www.kff.org/other/state-indicator/icu-beds/?currentTimeframe=0&selectedRows=%7B%22states%22:%7B%22all%22:%7B%7D%7D,%22wrapups%22:%7B%22united-states%22:%7B%7D%7D%7D&sortModel=%7B%22colId%22:%22Location%22,%22sort%22:%22asc%22%7D