By Ian Pattison

An earlier version of this column appeared in the print edition and on the website Oct. 3.

The good news is that Canada has announced a plan to buy nearly 8 million rapid COVID-19 test kits.

The bad news is that Health Canada has only just approved them, with their arrival time being vaguely described as 'the coming weeks.'

If we didn't know they would be approved, why buy them. If we did know they'd be approved, what's the delay in shipping? The U.S. and several European countries are already using rapid tests. What’s taking Canada so long?

Why do our existing nasal swab tests take so long to process? We’ve been at this for eight months now and still there are long lineups for tests in major cities with results that take days to be returned, including in Thunder Bay.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said recently there will be “no caps or quotas” on testing as demand increases. Now we are told that only those people with symptoms will be tested.

Thunder Bay Regional hospital is allocated only 1,500 test kits per month. Back in March, Dr. Stewart Kennedy, head of Regional’s response effort said, “We want to increase (test) swabs but we still have shortages and provincial directives lack clarity.“

Little has changed in a province that promised it had learned its lesson about being prepared when SARS struck, then again when COVID-19 appeared in January.

This week Kennedy said despite efforts to meet increased demand for testing there are still issues with the turnaround time for results in all but priority cases. These include health care workers, teachers, first responders, contacts with long-term care individuals and contact tracing subjects.

 Everyone else’s tests are backed up at the busy district health unit, and then at the public health lab in Toronto.

Most people around here have been good about following the rules. There are only two active cases. Good for us. If that number spikes as people head indoors for fall will Ontario Health be able to respond with more kits and test capacity in time to head it off?

Kennedy says the virus will likely be with us for “months to years.” A vaccine is reliably estimated to be months away, perhaps not widely available until spring.

Earlier this week, Quebec brought in partial lockdown measures for the three regions where the outbreak is the worst. Ontario waited until Friday, the same day it set a new daily case record of 732, to tighten restrictions to include a pause on social bubbles and mandatory masks for all public indoor areas. The province is still leaving restaurants, bars, banquet halls and gyms open in the hotspot areas of Peel Region, Toronto and Ottawa. Is this really enough?

By the way, Casino Woodbine in Toronto was among 11 southern Ontario casinos that reopened on Monday. Thunder Bay’s Gateway Casino remains closed “until it is determined we are able to safely resume operations.”

* * *

PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE POST-SCRIPT:

1. Donald Trump is an ignoramus, no two ways about it. (He’s also a fool, having contracted the coronavirus because he’s so very careless, and irresponsible, having mingled with hundreds of people on the same day that his closest aide was diagnosed. Still, he deserves our wishes for a full recovery.)

2. Joe Biden is a decent man who was pushed to frustration and ultimately, exasperation, as in, “Will you shut up, man?” There’s already a T-shirt.

3. Chris Wallace was rendered ineffective as a moderator because,

4. Trump is an ignoramus.

Despite all the yelling and interruptions we did learn some things about Trump’s bid to control and ultimately hijack on the Nov. 3 election, assuming he’s healthy enough to contest it.

We know that he hurried to appoint a new, ultra-conservative Supreme Court justice, as is his right, in hopes its now 6-3 ideological majority will serve him well in any pending election challenges.

Trump’s main conspiratorial theme is to allege widespread fraud among mail-in ballots which will be far more numerous this year as Americans seek to avoid crowded polling places during the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the fact there is no proof that this has happened or will happen, Trump has ensured problems by strangling the post office of resources. He appointed a postmaster-general who immediately set to work ordering post boxes removed from streets in many cities and stripping postal stations of 700 high-speed sorting machines that would help to ease any ballot backlog that might occur.

Ordered by a judge to put those machines back into service, Trump loyalist Louis DeJoy said it was impossible because they’d been stripped for parts. Parts for what? Working machines still in operation?

The court’s injunction found that 72 per cent of the scuttled machines were in counties won by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. This is reminiscent of the removal of polling stations in largely poor, Black sections of cities during the recent primary elections forcing voters there to stand in line for hours. In Texas, the Republican governor has just limited mail-in ballot drop-off sites to one per county.

Then there’s what sounds a lot like a presidential call to arms.

Trump has long encouraged far-right zealots to stand with him, and done little to dissuade white supremacists. During the debate he pushed the potential for unrest further by saying this: “I’m urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully. Because that’s what has to happen. I am urging them to do it.”

There is little doubt that supporters, many with firearms, will take this as a signal to “stand by” to challenge voters whom they somehow suspect as being ineligible.

It was an ominous-sounding threat rooted in a practice known as poll watching. Democrats do it all the time but this is the first time in 38 years that the Republican Party will be allowed monitors since a court banned them over alleged minority voter intimidation. Now Trump, who has refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose, is encouraging a return to those tactics.

American civil unrest is close to boiling and Trump just turns up the heat. As Andrew Coyne put it in The Globe and Mail Thursday, “His (debate) conduct was mortifying, yes. But his message was terrifying.”

Worried citizens are looking for a way out. Google searches in the U.S. for the terms “move to Canada” and “how to move to Canada” skyrocketed during the debate.

Now all eyes are on Trump’s medical condition. He, his wife Melania, key aide Hope Hicks, another staffer, three White House journalists and a growing slew of others have all tested positive after close contact at a variety of events including the debate, two fundraisers and a rally in Duluth, Minn., Wednesday.

The Biden camp must be steaming after learning about Trump’s Wednesday diagnosis at the same time as everyone else did -- from Trump’s 1 a.m. Friday tweet, more than two days after the two shared a debate stage and the Trump family entourage waved away masks offered to them by health officials at the Cleveland Clinic event site.

Trump’s physician, Dr. Sean Conley gave what sounded more like a typically vague White House press conference Saturday than a detailed medical briefing. Refusing to answer basic questions about when the president was given oxygen and how high his temperature had gone, Conley’s sunny version of events has elevated concerns, not allayed them.

Conley’s characterization was contradicted at about the same time by White House chief of staff Mark Meadows who told reporters in the press pool that some of the president's vital signs over the previous 24 hours were “very concerning" and that the next 48 hours (until midday Monday) would be critical in terms of his care.

Trump will stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre indefinitely while he undergoes a five-day antiviral regimen for COVID-19. This could indicate his condition is worse than Conley has been willing to admit.

Trump posted another video on Twitter Saturday night to say he was “starting to feel better” but acknowledged that it will take days yet to measure the severity of his case.

At 74, obese and with a heart condition, Trump is vulnerable. He was said to be feverish, very fatigued and short of breath after being taken to hospital Friday. Convalescence can take up to a month which takes us exactly to election day.

Should he recover he can be expected to flout medical advice, resume his unsafe rallies and boast, ‘See, I told you, it’s nothing.’ If he gets seriously ill, the fallout on social cohesion, the economy, national security and the election itself are impossible to predict.

Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs. 

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