The New Public Health: Goodbye, common-sense compassionate care and social justice, and welcome, state-ordered child abuse.
In Sartre’s play “Huit Clos”, three individuals find themselves quarantined post-mortem in a room that serves as hell. They turn on each other to the point where the protagonist laments “l’enfer c’est les autres”. I won’t claim that I even begin to understand the existentialist nuances of these words, yet the superficial meaning of “hell is other people” is becoming more and more evident in the corona crisis.
My brilliant girlfriend had just made me aware of the Sartre quote that fits so well with the new hotel quarantine procedures for travellers returning home to Canada. But then the public health authority of our neighbouring Region of Peel raised the bid even higher. In a flyer summarizing what to do when a child is sent home after exposure to COVID-19 (e.g. because of a classmate with a positive test), they literally wrote:
“The child must self-isolate, which means: • Stay in a separate bedroom • Eat in a separate room apart from others • Use a separate bathroom, if possible • If the child must leave their room, they should wear a mask and stay 2 metres apart from others”
Source: Peel Region child dismissed protocol, posted at https://peelregion.ca/coronavirus/_media/child-dismissed-protocol-en.pdf until 28 February 2021
We Are in a Public Emergency Situation – Health Scientists Are Not Qualified to Lead the Response
According to a March 2 press release by the Government of Ontario, “A new Command Table will be the single point of oversight providing executive leadership and strategic direction to guide Ontario’s response to COVID-19.” The Command Table, whose membership has never been disclosed, reports to the Minister of Health, Christine Elliott. The Ministry’s existing Emergency Operations Centre “will continue to provide situational awareness and perform an overall coordination function”. Yet, the Minister, along with the Province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Williams, and municipal and regional MOHs such as Toronto’s Dr. Eileen de Villa, are the public faces of the pandemic response and use their powers to order sweeping restrictions on everyday live. The March 2 press release is clearly focused on the health and medical side, promising to “Safeguard [the] Public from COVID-19” and “Ensure Health System Readiness”.
While this singular focus may have been appropriate in the early phase of the COVID-19 outbreak, doubts have started to emerge as early as March 2020 and continue to grow. In a May 12 post titled “Corona Crisis – Tunnel Vision vs Comprehensive Risk Assessment“, I summarized a leaked report — known as the “false alarm paper” — from Germany’s crisis management specialist Stephan Kohn, in which the author argues that “a new crisis situation should be declared and the out-of-control pandemic crisis management itself be battled”. In “We Have a Different Emergency Than You Think“, an anonymous blogger and self-identified business professional provides a brief but scathing assessment of the Ontario government’s situation assessment and emergency response capabilities. He recommends listening to Canadian emergency management experts, at least two of whom have spoken up about the corona crisis: David Redman and Alex Vezina.
Today’s the day that my first-ever newspaper op-ed is published. I argue that “Canada’s current pandemic response isn’t supported by the facts“. The working title of the op-ed was “Brave New Covidworld?”, inspired by a brilliant paper by British philosophers Ian James Kidd and Matthew Ratcliffe. In “Welcome to Covidworld“, they raise many of the same concerns with the global pandemic response that I reiterate in the op-ed and that many clear-thinking academics, health scientists, professionals, and other citizens have developed since March 2020. For example, I maintain a short list of dissenting Canadian doctors’ voices published in the mainstream media, see MSHFD.ca. These reasonable critics are largely ignored though, and that is a problem.
One of my students has just completed an individual research paper on “Investigating the use of GIS-Based Ordered Weighted Averaging in Wildfire Restoration”. Ordered Weighted Averaging (OWA) is a multi-criteria decision analysis technique that allows the decision-maker to mathematically define their attitude towards risk. The available strategies range from risk-averse to risk-taking approaches, based on a simple parameter setting. That parameter determines whether we emphasize the negative or positive aspects of a possible solution. Under a risk-averse strategy, we focus on the worst aspects and choose the solution that has the “least bad” outcomes. Under a risk-taking strategy, we focus on the best aspects and choose the solution with the “greatest good” outcome. The OWA also allows any number of strategies between these extremes, including an intermediate approach under which emphasis is balanced between the strong and weak outcomes.
A new “killer virus”, global panic, squandered public monies, and a rushed vaccine—déjà vu from the swine flu pandemic
The Council of Europe blasts the World Health Organization and national governments around the globe for the handling of the pandemic. Their report cites “overwhelming evidence that the seriousness of the pandemic was vastly over-rated by WHO, which led to a distortion of public health priorities.” The British Labour politician and author of the report, Paul Flynn, is cited with the comment: “This was a pandemic that never really was.”The pandemic in question is the 2009 swine flu pandemic and the quote is from a 2010 article in the British Medical Journal. The concerns at the time focused on undue influence by big pharma companies on the WHO, which led to poor decision-making and excessive spending by many countries on unnecessary anti-viral drugs and vaccines. By early 2010, Mr. Flynn apparently filed a motion in the UK Parliament to deplete left over Tamiflu pill stockpiles by using them as winter road salt.
For coronaphobics and lockdown believers, the United States serve as the poster child for how not to handle the pandemic. The Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 dashboard (Fig. 1) shows cumulative “case” counts by US counties using proportional circles – a suitable cartographic choice, although the bright red colour on dark background is questionable, as discussed elsewhere. The ten-and-a-half million cumulative cases and nearly a quarter-million deaths as of November 10th, place the US at the top of the COVID-19 world rankings. But are these numbers actually big? And what can we gather from the spatial pattern of cases?
This year, politicians, public health officials, journalists, and even our Facebook friends are urging us to listen to “the” data, trust “the” evidence, and follow “the” science with respect to COVID-19. Yet, each of these groups feel entitled to select which data, evidence, and science they elevate to the royal rank of “the” data, evidence, and science. A quick reflection or a look at an encyclopedia (online or otherwise!) will reveal that science is a never-ending process of asking questions, making observations, structuring ideas, hypothesizing explanations, conducting experiments, and drawing preliminary conclusions that inevitably raise more questions to be researched. In complex systems and processes such as infectious disease spread, the data and evidence resulting from the scientific method, and the underlying models and theories, may never be conclusive, and as such it is foolish and misleading to speak of “the” one science guiding us through the corona crisis.
Owing to a set of personal circumstances, I was able to closely follow the first half year of Sars-CoV-2 and COVID-19 in Canada in comparison with Europe. Over there, Germany, and to a lesser extent Austria and German-speaking parts of Switzerland, produced some of the earliest skeptical voices who put the virus’s threat into perspective. Germany also has perhaps the broadest spectrum of critics of the government response measures globally. In the interest of open discourse and exchange of ideas, I offer this subjective overview of key actors and aspects of the corona opposition in the German-speaking world. I am focusing specifically on the different areas of expertise represented among the dissenting views.
[Skip to second paragraph if you are not interested in the German context of the false positives issue.]
On June 5, 2020, OVALMedia’s Robert Cibis interviewed the Austrian microbiologist and infectious disease specialist Dr. Martin Haditsch about laboratory tests and specifically the PCR test that is used globally to detect the Sars-CoV-2 virus in a person. The interview [in German] broached the issue of false-positive test results in the context of a low-prevalence disease and imperfect tests. Two Youtube copies of the one-hour interview have a total of over 100,000 views at the time of writing. The next day, Swiss entrepreneur and Youtuber Samuel Eckert presented a 20-minute summary and explanation of the false-positive issue using an interactive Excel spreadsheet. His video currently boasts over 225,000 views with 15,000 likes. Possibly in response, the German Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn, a banker by training, said in a brief interview contained in a tweet from public TV channel ARD on June 14 that if the COVID-19 prevalence continued to drop and testing was simultaneously expanded (as has been the case in many Western countries since mid-April) into the millions then you would eventually obtain more false-positive than correct-positive results.
Karina Reiß, Sucharit Bhakdi: Corona Fehlalarm? Zahlen, Daten und Hintergründe [Corona False Alarm? Numbers, Data and Background]. Goldegg, Vienna Austria. Published 1 June 2020 (eBook, EAN 9783990601907) and 23 June 2020 (paperback, 160 pages, ISBN: 978-3-99060-191-4)
Published in the midst of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, „Corona Fehlalarm?“ (German for “Corona False Alarm?”) gives reason for deep reflection on where humanity stands with respect to rational decision-making, public health, and the social contract. In fact, the authors would argue that we are in a panic rather than a pandemic, and that we are not in the midst but at the end of the COVID-19 curve, though we may only be at the beginning of much worse collateral damage inflicted by the global overreaction to the appearance of the novel coronavirus in December 2019.