By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, Neepawa Banner & Press
Usually, I like to write my columns on the weekend. It’s a lot easier to organize my thoughts outside the bustle of the office, but it’s a risky strategy this week. Usually, not much changes between when I write and when we go to print, but I feel confident that won’t be the case this week.
I could be safe and write about something other than coronavirus, social distancing and “flattening the curve”. I could write thoughts and opinions about topics unlikely to change from Sunday, to Monday, to Wednesday, to Friday, but when we’re in the businesses of informing, ignoring the biggest story of the decade seems like a cop-out. Besides, anything related to current events sits under a cloud of uncertainty.
In most of our lifetimes, we haven’t seen anything like this. Sure, we’ve seen shortages, fear and uncertainty over storms and terrorist events, but we haven’t seen them over such an abstract foe. We also haven’t seen the increase in output that often accompanies such disruption, such as economic expansion to meet military needs or contractors working to replace damaged infrastructure. These days, factories aren’t ramping up production, they’re worried about whether they will have workers and customers willing to spend money.
The giant cloud of uncertainty is the hardest part. It’s hard because whether we collectively did too much or too little will only be apparent after the fact. In countries, like Italy, where they were slow to enact measures that would lessen the spread of the virus, some hospitals are becoming so overwhelmed that the Italian College of Anesthesia, Analgesia, Resuscitation and Intensive Care published guidelines to help doctors and nurses navigate the moral choices they would have to make regarding who would receive scarce intensive care resources and who wouldn’t.
Because no one has immunity to this new strain, it’s expected that most people will become infected. So far, the fatalities are low, but that’s in a scenario where everyone who needs hospital care can get it, not one where there aren’t enough beds or ventilators. At the best of times, Canada isn’t known for having an abundance of excess health care capacity.
By this point, we know the numbers. We’ve seen the exponential curve showing a rapidly increasing number of confirmed cases in places where the virus is more prevalent. We’re watching other countries, like Spain, said to be tracking a week or so behind Italy. Most of us are watching what happens in these countries, because while infection rates in China seem to be declining, no one is entirely confident in their “official” figures with respect to number of cases and fatalities.
In Canada, last week, one by one, measures started being put in place to limit gatherings. People then went crazy buying toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Hopefully, these measures, social distancing, not the toilet paper buying, will slow the progression of the virus. We breathed a small sigh of release on Monday, when the Manitoba government announced that despite close to 400 more tests being conducted, there were no additional positive cases, though the number will surely climb by the time we go to print.
While the health impacts will hopefully be minimized, the economic fallout will be inevitable. The actions we do and don’t take to combat Coronavirus will come with a very real cost to the economy. However, looking towards the complete shut down in Italy, the current situation in Canada might be preferable. Central banks and governments are trying to keep some stability, but they can only do so much. Between lost wages, lost business income and loss of market value, we will feel this for much of 2020 and longer. It’s unknown just what impact all these Canadians staying home will have on the economy. But it won’t be good.