Category Archives: Epidemics/Pandemics

Trust and Mistrust

 

One of the things that is so interesting about this pandemic is the astonishing fact that so many people mistrust so many so deeply. The distrust is virtually unshakeable. I am trying to understand why that happens. And it happens a lot where I live, in Southern Manitoba.

This has caught me by surprise. Or at least it once did. After nearly 2 years of this pandemic, it no longer surprises. I expect it. I am surprised when someone demonstrates trust.  I think it has something to do with the deeply felt religious beliefs in our community, but that still does not explain it.

Here is what Winnipeg Free Press reporter Dylan Robertson said about exactly this issue:

“Manitoba children could qualify for COVID-19 vaccines within weeks, but evangelical parents might not let their kids roll up their sleeves.

In a recent Probe Research survey shared with the Free Press, two-thirds of evangelical Manitobans said they “worry about the long-term effects of COVID-19 vaccinations in children,” compared with 41 per cent of overall respondents.

In addition, 49 per cent of those identifying as evangelical said COVID-19 as an issue was “overblown,” compared with 28 per cent of the overall population.”

 

What would lead Manitoba parents to distrust government or the authorities so much that they would put the lives of their children in danger when the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence, and by now, real life experiences, make it so clear that not taking vaccines is a dangerous choice?

The newspaper interviewed Rick Hiemstra, research director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and this is what he said, “A lack of trust and polarization have come home to roost.” So many of these evangelicals now identify with their group—Christians who don’t trust vaccines. They don’t trust scientists. No matter how many of them. They don’t trust the government. Instead, they trust what other members of their tribe have told them or trust what they have “learned” from their own “research” on the Internet. And they do so while they put the lives of their children in danger.

Here is what a local theologian said as reported by the Winnipeg Free Press,

“Evangelical scholar Nicholas Greco said numerous factors cause that gap, from a desire to rely on God for healing, to science clashing with creationism, to general skepticism of media and government.

“Evangelicals often are reflective of a social and political conservatism, which calls for smaller governments (and) personal autonomy, but also tends to lead to a mistrust of government,” said Greco, who is provost of Providence University College in Otterburne.

Greco, a long-time communications professor, said there’s a perception the government wants to control everyone, and that the media is overhyping the virus as part of some sort of conspiracy.

“The rhetoric I hear from many of my colleagues… is that we don’t want the government to have further control, because if they do, we will lose our freedoms,” he said.”

 

The evangelicals believe conspiracy theories rather than scientists and they believe them so strongly they put the lives of their children in danger. It is like an article of their faith that vaccines are untrustworthy, and no reasoning, no data, or no actual experiences will shake them from their convictions.

Here is what the Free Press reported, “

 

“At a recent panel, one congregant said everyone who got the vaccine is going to die within a few years, and that they’ll all go to hell.”

As an aside, think for a moment about what a monstrous God this person believed in—a god who would punish someone for eternity for doing what our scientists have strongly recommended.

It is as if denial of vaccine efficacy has become part of their religious faith.

 

Anti-Intellectualism and Anti-Science

 

A lot of people think they are know just as much as scientists. That really is dumb! We see this all around us. Everyone thinks they or their uncle Ernie who spends endless hours on the Internet watching social media thinks that it is not necessary to have an education to know what it takes to navigate a pandemic with a novel virus.   Ian Hanomansing, in his book Pandemic Spotlight quotes a front line physician Dr. Sain Chagla of Hamilton who said,

“I can say it bewilders me when all of us—10 plus years trained, 10 plus years in clinical practice, constantly looking at the evolving evidence every day—that someone dismisses us, saying, ‘you’re completely wrong because I saw this YouTube video.’ It’s almost funny.”

 

But it’s not funny; it’s crazy.

 

Personal Choice

 

We have been hearing a lot about personal choice lately. People say they want the personal choice to decide for themselves whether or not they take the vaccine.  To some extent that makes sense, but not much.

Rob Davidson is a country doctor from western Michigan and he had a different point of view. In his hospital in a small town the health care professionals saw many patients dying from Covid-19. It was heart breaking to see he said, particularly because most of those deaths were from people who refused to get vaccinated.  They would have had a good chance to avoid that just by taking the vaccine since he said, the hospitalizations  and deaths were overwhelmingly from the unvaccinated. He said some nurses cried every day on their trip back to their homes.  As well, they are frustrated by the attitude of people who just refuse the vaccines saying it is a matter of personal choice. This was Dr. Davidson’s response to that:

“With every shift, I see the strain people sick with Covid-19 put on my hospital. Their choice to not get vaccinated is not personal. It forces patients with ruptured appendixes and broken bones to wait for hours in my emergency department; it postpones surgeries for countless other people and burns out doctors and nurses…Personal choice cannot be an acceptable reason to endanger other people.”

How many nurses and other health care professionals have quit their jobs because they can’t take it anymore?

I wish people who worried about personal choice thought about the effects their choice have on other people. Is that not important too?

 

Standing up for what’s right takes courage

 

The Freedom Convoy in support of truckers went through Winnipeg on the way to Ottawa. I wish I had gone to see it, but Christiane and I are staying close to home in support of our health care workers and Manitobans who have not been able to get vital health care procedures or surgeries because our hospitals are filled up with Covid-19 patients and the staff are being relentlessly overworked. We are triple vaxxed so we think we are safe, but don’t want to take a chance right now partly for their sake.

Canada’s truckers don’t support such thinking. They want their freedom. And to them that basically means they don’t want to give in to health restrictions even if that increases danger for others. It’s all about them.

The truckers have also been joined by some unsavoury characters that they are not able to denounce. For example, in Winnipeg Niigaan Sinclair a professor at the University of Manitoba and columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press went to see their “freedom rally” when the convoy stopped in Winnipeg. He took his young daughter with him. She got an education.  This is what he reported seeing:

 

“We saw swastikas. We also saw dozens of signs chanting homophobic and Islamophobic slurs, threats against politicians, and near-endless messages about “freedom.”

I saw lots of sign-less people alongside children and elders.

I hope everyone I saw realizes that there’s no point chanting “freedom” when you stand beside someone calling for violence.

No one credits someone with a “differing opinion” while watching violence. The watcher is as complicit as the doer. Ask the German people if you want to know what I mean.

So, two days after International Holocaust Memorial Day (Jan. 27), Nazi symbols were brandished openly in downtown Winnipeg — and nobody stopped it.”

 

Frankly, I never thought Swastikas would be brandished in downtown Winnipeg. Some of the truckers or their supporters were carrying yellow Star of David’s with wording that suggested vaccine mandates were equivalent to persecution by Nazis.

This “freedom convoy” has been planned for nearly a year. Sinclair believes the date chosen for the event was significant. It was the day set for Canada’s National Day of Remembrance of the brutal and hateful attack on a Quebec City Mosque. It should have been about that event, not some phony “freedom rally.” There was a hero 5 years ago during that attack. He was not a trucker. He was Azzedine Soufiane, a 57-year-old grocery store owner, who was killed while opposing the gunman for long enough for others to join him and stop the shooting. That took bravery.  Driving a big rig across the country does not take any courage. As Sinclair said, Saturday should have been about Soufiane.” It should have been about a real hero.

 Instead of supporting a cause that needs our support, this convoy stood up for racism and zeonphobia. As Sinclair said, “No, Saturday was about people who used frustration with the COVID-19 pandemic to spread hate, sow division, and try to intimidate people they disagree with.”

 

I am not saying all the participants in the convoy are scum. But there were plenty of them, and I did not hear many words of dissent from the truckers or the non-truckers that organized the event. They were too busy ‘shouting hooray for our side,” to quote Neil Young.  The denunciations should have come through loud and clear. My own Member of Parliament, Ted Falk, had gone to the Manitoba/US border to show his support for the truckers earlier in the week. I did not hear him denouncing the hate.

Sinclair said he had not seen anyone standing up at the Winnipeg Rally to denounce the racism and hate.  Sinclair summed it up well,

“Truth be told, I don’t know if anyone during Saturday’s rally in Winnipeg or Ottawa had the courage to speak up against those waving swastikas. I’d like to hope there were a few… It takes courage to stand up for what one believes in. It takes much more courage though to stand up for what’s right.”

 

I would like to see some more truckers and politicians standing up against hate. That’s what freedom is really about. Standing up against hate. That takes guts. Something notable by its absence at the Freedom Convoy.

Wisdom from Curlers and Nonsense from Truckers

 

We have been hearing a lot of crap from truckers and their allies lately.  They want freedom. Don’t we all? They keep demanding the right to decide for themselves whether or not they will take vaccines for Covid-19.  Many of them drove in a “freedom convoy” all the way to Ottawa from all parts of the country to protest mandates, getting lavish praise along the way from all kinds of people including political leaders.  By mandates they mean all laws and health orders relating to Covid-19. Really they want to do whatever they want, saying it is a matter of “personal freedom”.

 

Yet they don’t demand the right to drive on whatever side of the road they choose. They don’t demand the right to drive without licensees. They don’t protest against the safety requirements to restrict the hours that they drive their trucks. They don’t drink and drive. The fact is that truckers, like each of us, are not allowed to do whatever we want. We all have to obey laws whether we like them or not. None of us can do whatever we want. That is not freedom. That is anarchy. Frankly they are full of nonsense.

 

Then there are curlers. Well at least there is one that impressed me greatly.  This was Jason Gunnlaugson the skip of one of Manitoba’s top curling  teams and a former provincial champion. He recently announced that he would not compete in the Manitoba championship this year that will be held next week in Selkirk.  That means he won’t have a chance to compete in the Canadian Briar either.

 

Gunnlaugson announced that several members of his family and others in his “immediate circle” had not been able to receive timely medical treatment during the pandemic as a result of a huge surge of hospitalizations in Manitoba as a result of Covid-19 cases.  This is what he said: “I personally cannot reconcile playing non-bubble and non-testing curling tournaments at this time.”

 

With that comment Gunnlaugson proved he was different from the truckers—he could think of someone other than himself! He believes in freedom for others, not just freedom for himself. After all, we all want freedom.

 

Imagine Pleasant Nonsense

 

I read an interesting article in The Guardian recently. Two things caught my attention.

First, there was a small photograph of a young girl with a gentle smile on her face unmasked and cheerfully throwing a mask into a bonfire. This was the caption: “A Mask-burning rally against Covid-restrictions at the statehouse in Boise.”

The mask burning reminded me of southern Manitoba where recently a mask burning was held near Winkler.

Then there was a much larger photograph of an outdoor assembly of religious people in front of a large wooden cross with many people in close proximity holding a song book and apparently singing. Of course, no one was masked. There were about 75 people and not one person was masked and there was no social distancing at all. The caption indicated the people in Moscow Idaho were protesting against measures to combat Covid. Beside the song leader was a young child partly obscured but she was wearing a T-shirt with the following words visible: “Imagine Pleasant Nonsense.” Or perhaps more likely, “Imagine Pleasant Common Sense.” The shirt was partially obstructed, so I could not be sure, which allowed me to speculate.

The Guardian reporter, said the church was trying to create a theocracy in the town and also,

“The church and its pastor Douglas Wilson, have led an uncompromising campaign of opposition to coronavirus public health measures in Idaho…The campaign has included in person protests, misinformation and encouraged civil disobedience across media channels owned by the church. It also comes at a time when numerous far right groups across the US are taking action against Covid-19 mandates…”

Pastor Wilson’s book according to the Guardian article said that

“the churches eventual aim is…theocracy,” or, “a network of nations bound together by a formal acknowledgement of the lordship of Jesus Christ,” as opposed to secular society ruled by “civil governments [which] are in necessary degrees satanic, demonic, and influenced by the god of this world who is the devil.”

Wilson also co-wrote a book called Southern Slavery as it Was, which the Guardian described as follows,

“The book depicted slavery in the antebellum southern US as “a relationship based upon mutual affection and confidence” and argued that the enslaved enjoyed “a life of plenty, of simple pleasures, of food, and good medical care.”

 

The pastor also urged his faithful followers that this would not be “rebellion against lawful authority but “an example of a free people refusing to go along with their own enslavement.”

The Guardian also reported this,

“Last month, a video version of a post by Wilson at his well read-read blog was removed from YouTube. The blogpost entitled A Biblical Defense of Fake Vaccine IDs, was based on a conspiracy theory asserting that the vaccine response by was a “power play” on the part of the Biden administration, which intended to leave restrictions in place permanently.”

But I kept thinking what the message on the young girl’s T-shirt mean? This really piqued my curiosity. Why was she wearing a shirt with such a message? What did it mean?

Nonsense or Common Sense? Take your pick

 

Pee Brains of southern Manitoba rise again: When Distrust turns to animosity

 

I have tried to be more moderate in my condemnation of my fellow citizens of southern Manitoba. But sometimes that is very hard.

 I have been writing about how distrust in government and its institutions can lead to serious harms, but what happens when distrust curdles into animosity?

When it comes to Covid-19 there really should not be any more surprises in the Southern Health District of Manitoba (where I live). If someone had written a novel with these facts it would have been dismissed as too ludicrous to be believable. The Winnipeg Free Press has reported that Dr. Donna Neufeld of Winker (no relation) said in her region of the district people gathered to set fire to boxes of KN95 masks the province was freely giving out to anyone who wanted them. These masks were in such high demand because we had been told they were the best and with the Omicron variant  we should use the best.  Even though others (like me) were anxious to get such masks, these people gathered like a cult and had a mask burning party.

The  masks  were in such high demand that the province quickly ran out of them. as a result, some of the citizens there decided to burn them so no one could use them. This was an act of much more than vandalism. It puts lives of others deliberately at risk. Dr. Neufeld also told the reporter about a person who smuggled Ivermectin (horse and cow de-wormer) into the hospital so it could be given secretly to a Covid-19 patient by someone who thought they knew a lot more about medicine than the medical team, presumably by virtue of conducting extensive “research” on line. Why bother going to medical school for 7 years training when a couple of hours on the internet will give you all the knowledge you need?  This of course was doubly dangerous, because doctors prescribing medications of course need to know what other drugs their patients take.  Little wonder that the medical community in Winkler has felt a “collective angst,” according to Dr. Neufeld. Wouldn’t you feel that if you lived here?

Of course, Southern Manitoba does not have exclusive rights to crazies. I heard recently that in the US people who are vaccine hesitant have been willing to replace Vaccines with urine. I kid you not. I am sure the Internet researchers will soon be advising the Pee brains of Winkler to drink that instead of injecting vaccines.

I have been preaching that the sleep of reason brings forth monsters, as Goya said. Does anyone disagree? Sometimes I think that someone raised the northern seaboard and all the nuts and bolts rolled down to southern Manitoba. What a place to live.

 

We can’t Afford to get this wrong

 

With the arrival of the omicron variant, the Covid crisis is getting much worse in Manitoba, Canada, and everywhere. I have a lot of confidence in Manitoba’s Public Health professionals, but I fear they might be making a mistake. Or perhaps Manitoba’s political leaders are not taking their advice. I hope my fears are misplaced.

Recently, a number of intensive care physicians in Manitoba begged the province to impose stricter restrictions on Manitoba in order to establish a “circuit breaker” for the spread of the omicron virus. The same thing happened during the 3rd wave of the pandemic they proved to be right. Shortly after that, the province had to send 57 patients from Manitoba’s Intensive Care units to Ontario and Saskatchewan. Those physicians were right; Manitoba’s public health team were wrong. Are we going to experience the same thing again?  If so things will be much more challenging than last time as there is a good chance that those two provinces will not be able to help as this time Manitoba is going through the 4th wave at about the same time as them. As Dr. Roussin has said over and over again, “We can’t afford to get this wrong.”

 

Some have said Manitoba is relying too much on the number of admissions to hospitals, because those admissions typically rise 10 days or so after the virus hits. The second problem is this time with omicron the virus is spreading so rapidly cannot Manitoba wait for the proper numbers to be given? This what Carol Sander of the Winnipeg Free Press reported,

“Public health officials and Premier Heather Stefanson said this week they’re keeping a close eye on ICU admissions and hospitalizations before ordering a potential lockdown or other ramped-up measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Even if ICUs aren’t overwhelmed, vital services Manitobans need in their daily lives will likely be disrupted by Omicron, said virologist Jason Kindrachuk.

The normally reserved University of Manitoba medical microbiologist raised the alarm Thursday about the impact of many essential service workers — from pharmacy, grocery, transit and health to protective services — catching the virus.

What happens if a significant proportion of your work staff are all sick at the same time and unable to work? That now has an impact not only on your operations but also on the ability for people to get the goods and services they need,” said Kindrachuk.

Those things are crucially important for us to consider.”

 

Dr. Kindrachuk, from the University of Manitoba, made another very important point:

 

“We have to appreciate health-care capacity and the importance of preserving that, but we also have to look at other aspects and appreciate that we’re all interconnected.” 

 

We all know how vitally important it is to protect our health care system. That is inarguable. But there are other very important “systems” that also need protection. For example, many systems such as the police system, the educational system, the fire protection system, among many others could fail if too many of the people who work in those systems get sick and can’t work. We must not forget that while concentrating solely on the health care system. Because the new variant spreads so fast, we might not have time to make the necessary adjustments such as unwelcome, but perhaps necessary, further restrictions on the movement of people.

The NDP in Manitoba have been criticizing the province for being too slow to react, at the same time as the base of the Conservative Party is likely telling it the restrictions are already too onerous and not necessary. This is how Sanders described the issue:

“By waiting to see if ICU admissions rise before imposing more restrictions, the Progressive Conservative government is “rolling the dice with Manitobans’ lives,” said NDP house leader Nahanni Fontaine. Why wait until we get to the point where we’re goinng to have to contemplate sending people out of province? the MLA said.”.

 

During the third wave of the pandemic, overwhelmed Manitoba ICUs had to send 57 pandemic patients out of province for care. Now that neighbouring provinces are struggling with hospitalizations, that may not be an option.

 

“Ontario is in their own mess,” Fontaine said. “The reality is that there are consequences to sitting on the fence and doing nothing until the last minute — and the consequences are Manitobans’ lives.”

 

Who is right? A lot hangs on it. Another outside expert seems to be siding with the NDP on this issue. He is an outspoken law and public health Prof. Amir Attaran in Ottawa and this is what he said,

“Given Manitoba’s ICU capacity, soaring COVID-19 cases and unvaccinated pockets of the population, Attaran estimates the province will run out of critical care capacity early next week. Manitoba can’t count on outside help this time with the super-infectious Omicron wave hitting most of Canada right now, he added. “Every province, very soon, will be slammed for ICU beds,” said Attaran. “Nor can Manitoba expect the military to bail it out, either. Other provinces will be making the same request… We really are in it together this time.”

 

Some think the Conservative government is pandering to its base. I don’t believe that. I believe they are listening to their Public Health team of professionals. I trust those professionals. I hope my trust is not misplaced. Dr. Roussin is right—we can’t afford to get it wrong.

What does Fairness have to do with it?

 

Dr. Ayoade Alakija a special envoy to the WHO and co-chair of the African Vaccine Delivery Alliance, recently threw a wet blanket on my enthusiastic optimism that we are in the down stretch of Omicron.  Christiane Amanpour asked Dr. Alakija if there was light at the end of the tunnel. Was the pandemic nearing the end? Dr. Alakija said, there was room for

“cautious optimism but it depends where in the world you are sitting and where in the world you live. Yes, there is potential optimism for those who are tripled vaxxed, who are getting booster doses like the US, UK, EU and other parts of the world, and maybe those people can call it a mild illness, but for  those of us in Africa, and for those of us in the low income countries of the world it is absolutely not the beginning of the end, it is more the end of phase I than of Phase II I would say.”

 

By now it is sadly apparent that we actually are all of us in this together, though the richer part of the world has not been heeding this advice. In our haste to get our own populations vaccinated, we have largely forgotten that variants can be developed in the poor parts of the world where the vast majority of people are not fully vaccinated. We will never be safe, until everyone is safe. Dr. Alakija pointed out the current WHO figures for the beginning of the year 2022:

Americas–60% fully vaxxed

Europe–56% fully vaxxed

South East Asia–39% fully vaxxed

Africa–7% fully vaxxed

 

But things are more complicated than that.  Now people in the west are saying fully vaccinated means 3 jabs. In Africa less than 1% are fully vaccinated on that definition. To make things even worse, some are even saying 4 jabs. As a result, she said,

“We could be breeding a super variant in a place like South Africa when the reality of fully vaccinated has now shifted from 2 doses to 3 doses, so Africa is not 7% fully vaccinated but rather less than1% fully vaccinated!”

Africa is a great place for a new variant to evolve! And by now we surely recognize that any new variant will never stay in Africa and we are entirely incapable of keeping it out of our country. In days it will travel from there to here (wherever “there” is ).

 Western politicians, and their citizens have been loath to admit this, to the peril of those citizens. It is not enough to protect ourselves. We need to protect everyone to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

We have to remember that Omicron came from South Africa and Delta came from India. While we were scrambling to protect ourselves, we forgot that this would not be good enough. We don’t know where the next variant will come from and whether or not it will evade our natural protections for those who caught an early variant or whether or not it will evade our vaccines.

Dr. Ayoade Alakija also pointed out how the world’s public health infrastructure was shown to be woefully inadequate, not just in the poor parts of the world, but in places like the UK and US (and Canada) I would add, where we are struggling to provide enough test kits or N95 masks. Chris and I got 10 N95 masks, which are now recommended, this week. We have been told we should all have these. But all we got was 10 and now we are learning they have run out! The philosopher George Santayana once said something like, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I guess that describes us. As Dr. Alakija said,

“Right now people are holding on to slim tiny threads of hope, because we want this to be over. It is not over. It is not over because we have not vaccinated the world. It is not over because people in Africa and Latin America and parts of Asia do not have tests, so they are unable to test and are unable to stay home when they are unwell because there are not economic mitigation measures. It is not over because life in Washington D.C. at the moment is worth far more than a life in Abuja or a life in Sao Paolo is worth less than a life in Brussels. It is not over because we have gross inequity all over the world in vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics…who will stand up? Who will take the wheel at this critical moment world history? President Biden has been trying to take some moral leadership but there hasn’t been enough crowding around. This is a global event of historical proportions that is going to define many of our lives for a long time to come. Public health plus global solidarity is the only way that we’re going to get out of it. We need to act with urgency. We need to act together and we need to act now.”

Until the west learns the truth of this, the coronavirus will stick around to pester us, and perhaps, stick around until it evolves into something much more deadly than we have seen so far. There is absolutely nothing to say this can’t happen. It can. Like everyone else, I want this to end soon, but I recognize that my hopes will not bring it about it. We need to act now.

What does fairness have to do with it? Everything.

 

Who is the Boss?

 

Our previous Premier of Manitoba, Brian Pallister was soundly criticized for many things, often justifiably. But there was at least one thing I trusted about him. He said that when he got scientific advice from the public Health Team in Manitoba he always took that advice. They knew best he said. Brent Roussin, the Chief Medical Officer of Health backed the Premier up on that.

Our new Premier promised she would be different than Brian Pallister. Most of us thought she meant she would be better. Now I am not so sure.

I was surprised to listen to the press conference she held together with the Deputy Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Jazz Atwal, this week. A reporter asked Dr. Jazz Atwal directly if his department had recommended more strict measures be taken. To my surprise, Premier Stefanson immediately jumped in and interrupted to answer the question that had been directed at Dr. Atwal. But she did not answer the question. She skated around it instead. She started talking about how Manitoba already had among the strictest measures in place in the country. She added they got advice from many sources, businesses, doctors and others so that “it’s not just falling at the feet of (Manitoba) Public Health.” Like a master politician she dodged the question and as politicians are taught, when you are asked a question you don’t like, answer the one you wanted to be asked instead.

However, the reporters were persistent. They interrupted the Premier to repeat the question to Dr. Atwal. Had their department recommended stricter measures? This time Dr. Atwal gave an answer. Although it was not a complete answer either, he did make it plain what happened. Dr. Atwal said, “We do provide recommendations to government,” but left it up to the government to comment on whether or not it accepts them.”

 

It was telling that the Premier did not jump in to assure us that they always followed the advice of the Public Health team as Pallister had done. I know in a Democratic society the publicly elected representatives have the final say. That is how it should be. However, when they choose to ignore the advice of their own experts I think they should tell us that is what they are doing and then explain why, so we can make our own decisions about the wisdom of what the government has done.

For weeks now Manitoba physicians have been calling on the government to ramp up restrictions and bring in “circuit breaker” measures. I was surprised Dr. Roussin and his team were not doing that. Now I know why.  He was probably overruled by the Premier and Cabinet and no one told us about it. It looks to me like they took the advice of business people rather than the Public Health team.