Monday, 6 April 2020


Guest Post by Ron Penney
The Apocalypse is Coming

Two weeks ago I wrote a guest blog, Avoiding the Apocalypse, in which I noted that at every step of the way our public health response has been slow and that as a result, we may well have squandered the advantage we have as a result of our geography. As the song goes, with respect to the island of Newfoundland, “thank God we’re surrounded by water.” And, of course Labrador is also very remote from the rest of the continent.

In addition, I pointed out that our isolation meant that we were going to be one of the last jurisdictions to have cases. This result is that we had the advantage of learning from the experiences in other places and could act accordingly.

We have missed that opportunity and, as a result, we are into the pandemic big time. More cases than New Brunswick.
A couple of examples of missed opportunities:

I had understood that returning passengers from either the rest of Canada or outside Canada were to be given a mandatory self isolation order and their contact information recorded, so random monitoring could encourage adherence.

I now learn from returning passengers I know, that this is not the case. What is happening in St. John’s is that returning passengers are offered a brochure and no contact information is taken. This is a farce.

How’s hard can it be to organize giving out a self-isolation order and taking contact information? We have a small army of underemployed public servants, most of whom are bored to tears at home, who I suspect would only be too happy to do their part to help mitigate the pandemic.

We know for sure that returning passengers pose the greatest risk and we have utterly failed to take that risk seriously and to take steps to mitigate it.

There are still many planes landing at the airport disgorging thousands of passengers daily, who are coming from jurisdictions with a lot more cases than we have. They no doubt do their best to practice social distance at the airports but that necessarily breaks down once they enter the aircraft and are crammed together for several hours. Those flights are petri dishes for the virus.
Minister of Health, Dr. John Haggie
It appears that the Caul's funeral home cluster, by far the largest portion of the cases so far, originated from a returning passenger. The Chief Medical Officer of Heath has made the point that the self isolation advisory took place between the first and second visits of the index patient to the funeral home and that the person didn’t breach an “order”. But the fact is that had the person not attended the second visitation there would have likely been fewer cases. More importantly, there was no “order” in place at that time. It was merely advice without the force of law. It was only well after that incident that a mandatory order was issued, again too late.

In addition, as one if my fellow quest bloggers has noted, many unessential construction, mining and industrial activities are still continuing. For example, if there is a serious outbreak in Labrador West, there is no capacity to handle it. Other provinces have been much more aggressive.

Most significantly, we still haven’t issued a stay at home order, unlike the United States, where over 90% of their citizens are under such orders. This from the land of the free. We continue to rely on voluntary compliance, which doesn’t work. We need to make it, as well social distancing, a legal requirement.

Our national government’s response has been equally anemic, so we aren’t alone. For example, only in recent days has the Quarantine Act been invoked to require that returning passengers practice self isolation.


What we desperately needed was a national response, requiring social distancing and mandating citizens to stay at home, but instead we have a patchwork of initiatives throughout the country. And we now know where that has gotten us.

We are now at the stage that social distancing has nearly reached its limits, subject to the initiatives I have outlined above,  and it’s now becoming the responsibility of our acute care system. The plans presented so far by Eastern Health are impressive, but we need to see the provincial modeling, if there is such a thing, to assess the level of preparedness. Surely we must have some public health experts amongst the 285 full-rime faculty members at the Medical School, but not a peep from any of them if we do.

The biggest area of risk is our long term care homes, both public and private, and hopefully our hesitancy to ban visitors quickly enough won’t backfire on us. We know from the experiences in other jurisdictions what will happen should the virus strike.

My public health experts also tell me that we aren’t doing enough testing so we better know the extent of the virus in the community.

Turning to the other immediate effect of the pandemic, we now are starting to see the effects of the pandemic on our already dismal fiscal situation and declining economy.

The federal government has had to step in to support our borrowings. No doubt the Province has projections of what our fiscal status is and where it is likely heading. We need to see them no matter how shocking they are.

What the pandemic has done is to accelerate what was going to occur a few years later on because of our failure to control our expenditures in the face of declining revenues.

Until this catastrophe happened, we still had the highest per capita revenues in the country, which is why we weren’t entitled to equalization, notwithstanding the recent musings of the Minister of Finance.

And on top of all that we have yet to feel the impacts of the competition of Muskrat Falls when we will have to find close to a billion dollars a year to keep rates affordable and to ensure the reliability of the electricity system by keeping Holyrood, or its replacement, on standby. I suspect we will have to take our chances on Muskrat Falls reliability given our fiscal situation.

Not a pretty picture, but we need to start now to think about the future and how we get our fiscal house in order once this ends, after borrowing many more billions of dollars to keep us afloat.

And we need to start to work together to restore and improve our economy before many tens of thousands of us vote with our feet and abandon the place for good.

Now is the time to put together a voluntary task force to start the task of renewing our economy when the pandemic ends. There are lots of good people around with time on their hands who would like to contribute. Give them the opportunity.

And once this is over we need our national government to be partners with us as we face those immense problems, without losing our independence yet again.
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