The delayed response from our political leaders has put Canadians at risk

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It has been fascinating to watch governments responding to what has now become a global pandemic, partly because of the previous dithering and hesitations by leaders around the world.

It is also true here in Canada.

For most, the novel coronavirus Covid-19 causes symptoms similar to an ugly flu.  Nothing catastrophic.  But for the millions of Canadians who are elderly, chronically ill or with an auto-immune deficiency, it could be deadly.  And it is.  Almost 10,000 people globally have died so far from the disease.  Maybe more, depending on when you read this.

As we heard the news of the virus progressing in China and then neighbouring countries, the coronavirus was mostly the butt of bad jokes, mostly about drinking a popular brand of Mexican beer.

But when the virus started spreading to Iran and Italy, then to the rest of Europe and the world, it began to feel for many that governments were not taking the situation seriously enough.

Across the world, measures were taken after the virus started spreading.  In reaction.  But nobody seemed to want to be proactive and move forward early with bold, strong measures to protect its population before it was too late.

Here at home, the same was true.  Even though public calls came early and strongly about shutting the country down, starting with the borders, the reality felt more like watching a slow-motion disaster.  Instead of acting, governments were reacting.  Calls to shut things down were not answered.  Quebec was the first province to act with stronger measures, going farther than the more common advice of keep shopping, keep going out sure, but be sure to wash your hands.

We are monitoring the situation, they said.  We’re not there yet, they said.  Premier Doug Ford even joyfully told Spring breakers to enjoy their trips and have a good time.  Well, good times no more as tens of thousands are now scrambling to make it home.  But a look at what was happening in Italy should have been the signal to act, and to act swiftly and decisively.

So why were politicians so slow to react?  Some would argue that it is too early to talk about this, but the truth is that their decisions and their pace of the reaction might well be an indication of things to come from our political leaders.

Truth be told, governments have to balance many factors as they ponder the best course of action.  What will the economic consequences be?  How do we proceed to maintain law and order?  How do we keep people on board?  What about the chain of supply?  What can we impose, what can we demand, how far can we go?  How do we keep people safe?  How many will die?  And what will the political price be for our actions?

These are difficult questions to consider.  But while politicians were considering them, the clock kept ticking. Tic-toc-tic-toc-tic-toc.  And Covid-19 wasn’t waiting.  The first case of Covid-19 in Canada was confirmed on January 25, 2020.

As the virus started to spread in Canada, these hesitations led to an erosion of trust towards our institutions.  A trust that may be restored by bold economic measures, which have been announced.  But that trust will only truly remain strong, if, and only if, despite past hesitations, we are able to flatten the curve and limit the damage.

Photo Credit: CBC News

More from Karl Bélanger.    Follow Karl Bélanger on Twitter at @KarlBelanger.

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