Right in the centre - Always ready for the last war


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

There is no other description for the past few months except surreal. The challenges faced by communities, individuals, countries and leaders are unusual, but not unheard of. COVID-19 is resulting in a lot of illness, a large number of deaths and a huge amount fear-based decisions. Anyone who says they aren’t concerned or fearful about COVID-19 is either a fool or a liar.

Countries are always ready to fight the last war. In WWI, countries had men mounted on horses ready to fight sword and rifle, but they were no match for artillery. In WWII, the artillery and foot soldiers were no match for air power and heavy bombing. In the Cold War, air power was no real match the nuclear missile threat.

In that same vein, SARS and Ebola should have prepared countries better for COVID-19. The testing was too slow and mass testing adopted too late. Masks and protective clothing were not in large enough supply, it seems. Countries knew early, but perhaps not early enough, that infections were coming from certain countries. Travel should have been shut down much sooner than it was. It’s not racist to shut down travel from known source countries. Racism is when you make decisions with an unfounded bias, not when you have evidence-based reasons.

Perhaps worst of all, Canada and the U.S. have been willing for many years to write off flu deaths among the elderly and among those with compromised immune systems. I have read that Influenza and pneumonia killed 8,511 people in 2018, per Statistics Canada figures. In the United States, the CDC estimates that influenza was associated with more than 35.5 million illnesses, more than 16.5 million medical visits, 490,600 hospitalizations and 34,200 deaths during the 2018-2019 influenza season. That seems like a lot of deaths, considering that both countries really pump up the flu shots and most older people have pretty good access to health care. My point is that maybe we haven’t been taking good enough care of our elderly, infirmed and immune-compromised people for a long time.

Perhaps, if we had had a more robust testing process and protocol in the past, we might have been able and willing to act faster this time. In war and peace terms, it doesn’t take long during peace time to forget abut the last war. And as an aside, if anybody thinks Canada could win a military war today with our poorly equipped armed forces and with today’s attitudes, they are sadly mistaken.

So what needs to happen to fight COVID-19? The Manitoba government is basically on the right track. They are finding and adopting the quick tests, upping the numbers to 2,000 per day. Current testing is running at around 400 per day and finding very few new cases. The accelerated testing will be on certain groups. That is a wise approach.

And what about the future? The economy has to open up or there will not be enough tax income to sustain either the COVID-19 battle or basic health care, for that matter. Even on the evidence we now have, if Manitobans can stay relatively isolated by restricting inter-provincial or international travel or even travel within Manitoba, we may be in pretty good shape. We must not drive our people to desperation, we must wisely get back to some sense of normal.

It has been said, we will never be the same and we probably won’t be. Maybe that’s a good thing, so we might some day actually be prepared for the next war.

Disclaimer: The writer serves as a volunteer chair of the Manitoba Community Newspaper Association. The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being  the view of the MCNA board or Banner & Press staff.