BY IAN PATTISON
Should I stay or should I go? sang the Clash in 1981. Thirty-nine years later the question is more relevant than ever and the answer more elusive than anyone could have imagined when this coronavirus hit.
It’s been two months since we were told to stay home to stay healthy. It’s been twice that long since Western leaders got an inkling of what was seeping out of China. Hardly any of them did anything about it.
The mistakes -- and, it must be said in some cases, the preparations -- that were made in the past will be the subject for inquiries later on. For now, we are left to wonder what’s been happening since the end of March.
It’s now June and the time in between should have seen government working to get the economy functioning again while ensuring we could measure and trace what by now ought to be a steadily declining rate of infection.
Instead, we are haphazardly re-opening before the first wave has diminished in a desperate effort to save the economy. As much as we want to get out there to mingle and shop, we mostly don’t feel confident. We aren’t sure. Should we stay home or should we go out?
Instead of inspiring confidence, government has been sending mixed signals. For example, 90 per cent of new Ontario cases this week -- 350 per day -- are confined to in and around the GTA. The Thunder Bay District Health Unit is currently reporting just two cases. Yet Premier Doug Ford has insisted for weeks that the rules around what opens when, be applied uniformly across all regions. On Friday he finally appeared to open the possibility of a “regional approach.”
Ford said that if one area opened barber shops, someone from an adjacent area might drive there and spread the virus. There’s a good chance that could happen in the GTA, but no one’s going to drive from Toronto to Thunder Bay for a haircut should those shops be allowed to open as officials here propose.
In any case, it seems that many locals are convinced the virus is no longer a danger. On warm, sunny Wednesday, parking lots at several newly-opened Intercity stores were jammed. An observer estimated one in 10 people wore a mask as recommended for all Canadians venturing outside where they will encounter others.
Confusion around discordant messaging has led many to doubt what they’re being told. A new Leger poll found 50 per cent of respondents felt governments were deliberately withholding information about the pandemic, which has killed thousands and ground the economy to a halt.
Respondents were also asked whether they agree with nine theories circulating online about the coronavirus and how, or why, it came to be. While the more bizarre tales are mostly discounted, 19 per cent of respondents said they believed the number of deaths related to COVID-19 is exaggerated. Such is the level of public anxiety sown by uneven government messaging and online parties intent on sowing chaos.
It’s all very confusing, and it needn’t be. By now we should be feeling fully informed and content with a testing and tracing regime that would tell us the precise numbers and locations of coronavirus outbreaks, and confident that containment measures were effective. Instead it feels like months have been wasted as governments responded in different ways and at different times.
Where is the coherent strategy? What have they been doing -- or not doing to reach the goal of two weeks of infection decline before opening anything?
Premier Ford is beside himself trying to explain why this isn’t happening -- and apoplectic over filthy, dangerous nursing homes (if ever there was an argument against privatizing health care . . .) -- despite the fact there was a clear playing field available to prepare, with most of us self-isolating. Consistent daily testing isn’t where he promised it would be by now and pockets of COVID-19 keep popping up.
If Canadians are confused, imagine what it’s like for our American neighbours. President Donald Trump has essentially given up on the coronavirus that so confuses him, telling states to do their own thing. Largely along political lines, states and counties are taking radically different approaches to health and safety even in regions with high infection rates.
Not surprisingly, a majority of Canadian respondents in a new Angus Reid poll are against the border with the U.S. reopening as scheduled on June 21. About 84 per cent who live close to the border, like many of us in Northwestern Ontario, said they’d avoid trips across even when the restriction was lifted.
SPEAKING of the U.S., Minneapolis is a dangerous place today after an astonishing act of police brutality led to protests and, ultimately, riots that hurt the cause of racial equality.
George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American, was arrested by four Minneapolis police officers Monday on suspicion of forgery. They say he resisted arrest and so he was handcuffed and placed face-down on the ground. Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee against the back of Floyd’s neck for eight minutes while the man pleaded that he couldn’t breathe. Ultimately he stopped speaking or moving and died. It was all caught on video.
The Minneapolis Police Department’s manual states that neck restraints are reserved only for when an officer is caught in a life-or-death situation.
The four officers were quickly arrested. Chauvin has since been charged with third-degree murder -- manslaughter. Investigation of the other three is ongoing.
State patrol officers assigned to clear streets of protesters arrested a CNN crew -- three black men -- covering the riots Thursday. Gov. Tim Walz quickly ordered them freed. State patrol said on Twitter, “The three were released once they were confirmed to be members of the media.” They all wore press credentials. An all-white film crew next to them were not arrested.
Twitter prefaced President Donald Trump’s message that protesters could be shot with a message that it glorified violence. Trump is a thug, continually failing the test of leadership.
Increasingly violent protests have rocked Minneapolis-St. Paul and many other major U.S. cities every night since. Vandalism, fires and looting are as much a feature as marching, and Twin Cities officials say that every person arrested by police since Thursday has been from out of state.
This is Minneapolis, near the Canadian border, not Montgomery in the Deep South. The city that many of us like to visit will never be the same.
Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.