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Mandryk: Modelling shows government cannot play fast and loose with COVID-19

Leader Post logo Leader Post 2020-11-21 Murray Mandryk
a person wearing a suit and tie talking on a cell phone: Saskatchewan's Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab speaks to a reporter about masks prior to a news conference at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building in Regina, Saskatchewan on Oct. 28, 2020. © Provided by Leader Post Saskatchewan's Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab speaks to a reporter about masks prior to a news conference at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building in Regina, Saskatchewan on Oct. 28, 2020.
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For an hour-long press conference Thursday afternoon, provincial chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab pleaded with all of us of to take the kind of precautions to fight  COVID-19 that would render moot most every recent policy the Saskatchewan Party government has put forward to keep the economy fully open.

On a day when the latest government modelling of potential coronavirus spread offered the numbing prospect that we could be see as many as 8,390 cases of COVID-19 per day in Saskatchewan, what was more stunning is that our political leaders still seem so  oblivious.

Such numbers should have been a ball pein hammer to the foreheads of Premier Scott Moe and new Health Minister Paul Merriman. Instead, both sat beside Shahab at press conferences this week seemingly not listening to a damn thing he was saying.

There again, why should Shahab be different than most every other doctor in the province? If only he could to gain some credibility with government on the COVID-19 file by opening a small business …

From Shahab: Go to restaurants and bars far less. Don’t go into local stores if the parking lots are full. Don’t browse; get what you need and get out as quickly as you can. Don’t even go in if it’s crowded. If you play three sports, play just one. Work out at home instead of the gym or the fitness centre.

From Moe on Tuesday: We must keep stores open because we still haven’t recovered 15,000 jobs we lost in the spring. There are 2,700 doctors in the province and and while none of them are exactly telling me they like our plan, we’re not imposing any stricter measures because we have arbitrarily decided that issues associated with a lockdown — like the economy and mental health concerns we’ve identified — are our priority.

From Merriman on Thursday: Even though Shahab is saying we are averaging 160 new cases a day and it’s putting a strain on the health care system, our hospital system is operating “normally.” We know a lot more about the virus than we did in the spring when there were a lot of unknowns and we didn’t have a vaccine back then.

In fairness, in all three of the press conferences in the past seven days, Moe and Merriman did take small, incremental steps that have led us to a provincewide mask order. They consistently said rising COVID-19 case numbers are of grave concern. But the underpinning message each time has been we can’t really shut down anything and that fighting COVID-19 is really a matter of personal responsibility.

It doesn’t work that way. People — and yes, even businesses —  do whatever they see as the legal requirement and little more. As is evident by the anti-maskers, some of them don’t even do that.

Yet an already confused, indifferent and even somewhat defiant public isn’t told what legal consequences they face if they don’t adhere to a science/medical-based public health policy. The result? Many aren’t even sure this second wave of COVID-19 is real.

This mixed messaging made events like Thursday’s news conference farcical. Shahab and Merriman were so contradictory the sign language interpreter deserved time and a half for doing two simultaneous translations.

But what made the press conference unfunny was the subject matter — the grave notion of what might happen if we don’t start to get it right.

According to the long-awaited scientific projections we got Thursday, to do nothing could produce 469,000 cases in the next six months, 677 daily hospital admissions,  1,330 people in need of ventilators and 4,800 deaths.

But we could limit that to 4,830 cases in the next six months, if even most us  wear our masks in public, limit weekly household gatherings to five people, cut restaurant and bar visits by 75 per cent of normal and limit grocery shopping to once a  week.

This is what the science and the doctors — including Shahab — are telling us.

We all need to listen … starting with the leadership in the Sask. Party government.

Mandryk is the political columnist for the Regina Leader-Post and Saskatoon StarPhoenix.


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