Analysis & Comment

Roy Green: Will inconsistent coronavirus messaging from leaders contribute to a second wave?

Daily on TV, radio and social media platforms, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has provided coronavirus updates, repeating that “our government” acts only on the best advice of medical and other experts. Advice hardly anchored in granite-like certitude, it would appear.

Just this week, Canadians have been officially urged to wear face coverings if presented with situations challenging the demanded two metres of physical distancing in public.

Six weeks ago, on March 31, a Canadian Press story reported just as officially, “Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer maintained in a press conference that while face masks can cut down on the spread of coronavirus when worn by someone already infected, it does little for healthy individuals.”

Messaging in the U.S. has been just as inconsistent. On March 12, Time reported that days earlier, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams tweeted “seriously people – STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing the general public from catching #coronavirus.”

Sure, the views expressed by the chief public health officers of Canada and the United States evolved over several weeks. However, the statements were hardly open-ended and took no notice of Asian centres like Hong Kong and Taiwan, where wearing face masks was societally expected and medically supported.

In the report, Time stated that Dr. David Hui, a respiratory medicine expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who extensively studied SARS in 2002-03, made the case early that “common sense” dictates wearing a mask would protect against infectious diseases like COVID-19.

There was also much early public questioning concerning international arrivals at Canadian airports.

Should incoming flights be significantly reduced or even stopped entirely in the interest of mitigating the risk of the arrival of COVID-19 in Canada?

Repeatedly, Trudeau and public health officials declared that such a decision would, in fact, not protect Canadians from the virus. Health Minister Patty Hajdu told reporters in early March that “viruses don’t know borders.”

Yet by March 16, all but four Canadian airports were closed to international flights. But not quite, it seems.

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Direct screening for COVID-19 travellers, while a constant demand now, was just weeks ago not deemed essential. Travellers arriving in Canada from international destinations repeatedly shared on air they had experienced little official interest and few questions about the state of their health from CBSA agents.

An alarming mid-March call from listener Donna, an Ontario resident, underscored the stories we’d heard. Arriving at Toronto’s Pearson airport following a Cuba vacation where she had already experienced a high fever and COVID-19-like symptoms, Donna shared that even though her symptoms remained clearly present upon arrival at Pearson, she was nevertheless — almost casually — sent on her way home.

Donna said subsequent calls to Ontario public health authorities, an area hospital and her family doctor’s office left her bewildered and without any care or testing of any kind.

Meanwhile, in provinces across the nation families who shared living space were warned and fined many hundreds of dollars for enjoying some outdoor time as a unit.  In mid-April an Oakville, Ont., father rollerblading with his sons in a community centre parking lot was issued an $880 fine by a bylaw enforcement officer.

Remember that throwaway question we’d ask maybe dozens of times daily during better times? You know, “how are you?”

Well, how are you and how are we?

Roy Green is the host of the Roy Green Show on the Global News Radio network.

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