Pursuit of ‘first’ prompts rush to reopen
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/04/2020 (941 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Premier Brian Pallister seems constantly to be looking for superlatives to attach to the provincial government, and the province, he leads. He wants Manitoba to be the most improved, the first, the best at everything and, now, the earliest province in Canada to start reviving its pandemic-bound economy.
On Wednesday, Mr. Pallister announced that starting Monday, May 4, a significant portion of the Manitoba economy will reopen for business. Along with elective surgeries and medical services such as physiotherapy and diagnostics, this initial phase will also allow the reopening of outdoor patios, museums, libraries, hair salons, dental clinics and many retail businesses.
There are caveats. Businesses that reopen must continue to promote hand hygiene and physical distancing, and not allow more than 50 per cent of normal capacity. However, this is without question the most aggressive reopening plan in the country. “Last in, first out,” was the premier’s assessment.
But is it — to put it in terms consistent with Mr. Pallister’s penchant for exceptional-status exposition — the wisest course of action? Opinions will always vary, but the consensus of opinion globally seems to suggest Mr. Pallister might be moving too fast for his own, and our, good.
Public health experts around the world are warning political leaders to be guarded in allowing a resumption of economic activities. If there are mistakes in judgment to be made, health experts would prefer that we err on the side of caution by keeping things closed longer.
In the context of this cautious advice, what is driving Mr. Pallister to push forward so aggressively? A sporting man with a long resumé of competitive athletics, perhaps Mr. Pallister perceives reopening the economy as a race — another contest he is determined to win.
May 4 offers a key bit of evidence to support this allegation. May 4 was the date other provinces, most notably Saskatchewan, were going to start easing economic restrictions. Mr. Pallister not only matched that date in Manitoba; he also far exceeded the scope of Saskatchewan’s plans.
One can only wonder what Manitoba’s public health officials think. It’s worth noting that Mr. Pallister opted to appear alone to announce the reopening, holding his own news conference before Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief public health officer, presided over the daily pandemic update — a telling indication the plan leans more toward political strategy than public-health initiative.
When Dr. Roussin commented on the premier’s plan and said modelling data support some easing of restrictions, he seemed less than enthusiastic.
Notably, the chief public health officer conceded the resumption of economic activity could lead to additional infections; such a setback would almost certainly result in a scaling back of the reopening measures.
During the province’s pandemic response, Mr. Pallister has sometimes appeared more concerned about the health of the provincial treasury than the well-being of individual Manitobans. His pronouncements on threatened layoffs and budget cuts and his underwhelming array of provincial supports for businesses have cultivated a lingering impression that his primary focus is on alleviating the pandemic’s fiscal hit to the province.
But in racing against other provinces to reopen the economy, Mr. Pallister could be putting at risk the health of vulnerable Manitobans for what appears to be a political end. Reopening the economy should be, first and foremost, a public-health decision. It should not be expedited merely to provide a forum for the first minister to add another superlative to his cherished list of Manitoba “firsts.”