Thursday, November 26, 2020

On anti-precaution

Jennie Russell and Charles Rusnell's bombshell report offers an alarming - if perhaps not surprising - look at how Jason Kenney's UCP has refused to do anything more than the bare minimum to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. And naturally, Scott Moe's habit of following Kenney's every move makes it virtually certain that the same principles explain the Saskatchewan Party's similarly late, weak and reluctant response to a deadly virus.

So let's look at one of the main problems with Alberta's ideological response - and how it fits into the picture in Saskatchewan.

In its public messaging, the Saskatchewan Health Authority has quite rightly made reference to the Swiss Cheese Model - recognizing that under circumstances where no single intervention will eliminate the spread of COVID-19 on its own, we need to maximize the partial protections available in order to minimize overall transmission.

But there are noteworthy options missing from the SHA's own "swiss cheese" message and strategy. And Alberta's revelations may explain why:

A source with direct knowledge of the daily planning meetings said the premier wants evidence-based thresholds for mandatory restrictions that are effectively impossible to meet, especially in an ever-changing pandemic.

As of Wednesday, no thresholds have been designated publicly. 

The source said Kenney's attitude was that he wasn't going to close down anything that affected the economy unless he was provided with specific evidence about how it would curtail the spread of COVID-19. 

"This is like nothing we have ever seen before. So [it is] very, very difficult to get specific evidence to implement specific restrictions," said the source who, like the others interviewed by CBC News, spoke on condition of confidentiality for fear of losing their job.


CBC News also interviewed a source close to Hinshaw who said she has indicated that, eight months into the pandemic, politicians are still often demanding a level of evidence that is effectively impossible to provide before they will act on restrictive recommendations.


Ogbogu said it is clear politicians, who are not experts in pandemic response, are not focusing on what matters most to public health.

"The focus needs to be on the disease, on how you stop it," he said. "Not the economy. Nothing is more important."

In effect, then, Kenney has been applying an anti-precautionary principle to public health measures. 

Rather than ensuring that protective action is taken in the face of imperfect or uncertain information, Kenney's position has been that nothing may be done unless it can be proven to be perfect and indispensable. That's probably an impossible standard at the best of times, but it of course only becomes all the more unattainable when the province has given up on actually gathering complete information about the virus' spread.

From there, given the common backers, ideologies, strategies and political connections between the UCP and the Saskatchewan Party as well as their similar messages and plans around COVID-19, there's every reason for concern that the same principle is being applied to Moe's decision-making. And it's Saskatchewan's citizens who are living with the avoidably-increased risk of COVID-19 when Moe's government takes vital slices of cheese off the table.

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