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April 20, 2020

COVID-19 Lockdown

The Epidemiological Data Shows it is Unnecessary, Extremely Risky, and Harmful to Those Most in Need of Protection

The rapidly-growing body of epidemiological, virological, and forensic data from around the world shows that, in our fight against the COVID-19 virus, we have taken the precautionary principle to absurd extremes, completely out of proportion to the risk we face. We are in the process of throwing ourselves off an economic cliff to escape a virus that, while not to be taken lightly, is revealing itself to be far less of a threat to the majority of our population than first anticipated.

Our health policies are not being adjusted to match the emerging data. The lockdowns have not been repealed and our politicians and public health officials are not being confronted by the obvious questions raised by this data. The public deserves to see what epidemiologists, virologists, and forensic scientists are learning about COVID-19 before we continue to submit to the significant restrictions and economic devastation that our leaders are unleashing upon us.

So, over the coming paragraphs I will go through this publicly available data on COVID-19 to explain why our lockdown is unnecessary, extremely risky, and even harmful to those most in need of protection from the virus.

How lethal is COVID-19?

The April 14th, 2020, Canadian epidemiology update shows a case fatality rate of 3.0% (823 deaths among 26,123 confirmed cases). Completed case report forms show that 18% required hospitalization and 5% were admitted to the ICU. These are ugly numbers. But while these numbers are useful for hospitals to plan their responses, they are not actually very helpful for the wider population to be able to assess their risk of catching or becoming severely ill from the virus. Nor are they particularly useful for justifying a national lockdown. A case fatality rate is only based on how many people have tested positive for COVID-19. Any infection that is not confirmed by a test is not counted as a confirmed caseCase fatality rates only tell us how many people are dying within the small group of people who are actually getting tested without telling us anything about how widespread the virus is within our population. 

Let's briefly look at how case reporting of the COVID-19 virus compares with how the herpes virus is reported. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 67% of the global population under the age of 50 (3.7 billion people) are infected with herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and 417 million people worldwide (11%) are infected by herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). In other words, herpes is everywhere. Without treatment, the case fatality rate of neonatal herpes (caused by either HSV-1 or HSV-2) is 60%. And the case fatality rate of herpes viral encephalitis (when one of these two herpes viruses reaches the brain) is 30% with treatment and 70-80% without treatment. Those really are scary numbers! Based on these case fatality rates, the herpes virus is extremely lethal, right? Nope. The WHO estimates that globally there are only 14,000 deaths per year of neonatal herpes and only approximately 15,000 cases of herpes viral encephalitis each year. In other words, while herpes is very dangerous for those who develop symptoms of neonatal herpes or herpes viral encephalitis (and are therefore tested), most people who are infected by herpes are not developing symptoms of either of these two dangerous diseases. The vast majority of people with HSV-1 get cold sores. And the vast majority of people with HSV-2 get genital herpes. Annoying, but certainly not deadly. 

The herpes virus example highlights why the number of cases confirmed by testing and the case fatality rates that are calculated based on these confirmed cases are not useful on their own to calculate population-wide infection rates or overall lethality of a virus. Case fatality rates reported on their own are a recipe for creating panic but, without knowing how widespread a virus actually is, they do not actually provide a basis for sound government policies. Context is everything.

So, with that in mind, let's get back to COVID-19. The WHO initially estimated that the case fatality rate for COVID-19 was 3.4% based on the initial information coming out of China. However, mild cases were not included in these calculations. A recent study published in Nature Magazine concluded that even in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the epidemic, once all symptomatic cases are included in the confirmed cases, the risk of dying after developing symptoms is between 0.9% and 2.1%. And that still does not include asymptomatic cases. Another study published recently in the British Medical Journal reports that four-fifths (80%) of infections in China are asymptomatic!

The Center for Evidence-Based Medicine says that between 5% and 80% of all cases are mild or asymptomatic. Anti-body testing in a community in Lombardy, Italy, showed that there are 10 times more mild or asymptomatic cases than expected. Data from South Korea, Iceland, Germany, and Denmark suggest that once all mild or asymptomatic cases are counted, lethality is up to twenty times lower than the headline number. For example, a German antibody study, which focused on how widespread anti-bodies are in an entire German town, released interim results placing the lethality of COVID-19 at 0.37%, which is only a tenth of the earlier WHO estimate. Antibody testing in Denmark, which tested 127,000 citizens, revealed a lethality of 0.16% (one twentieth of the earlier WHO estimate) and, consequently, Denmark has reopened their schools this week. A US study suggests that the lethality could be as low as 0.1%

To put this in context, seasonal influenza (winter flu) is assumed to have a lethality of 0.1%, however the prestigious Robert Koch Institute in Germany calculated that during the 2017/2018 season influenza lethality was 0.5% and during the 2018/2019 season influenza lethality was 0.4%. This indicates that COVID-19 lethality is within the range of seasonal influenza and less lethal than the severe winter flu seasons of 2017/2018 and 2018/2019! 

In other words, these population-wide surveys suggest that the COVID-19 virus is already far more widespread than anticipated and therefore also far less dangerous. Without population-wide anti-body testing, it's anybody's guess where we fall on the scale here in Canada, but we won't have an economy left to restart if we wait on Ottawa to do these studies based on how slow Ottawa has been with everything else during this crisis. We would be better off taking our cues from studies coming out of other countries.

However, anti-body tests are not the only strategy that allows us to get a sense of the risks. We also need to look at which segments of society are most vulnerable to the virus.

Who is most at risk from COVID-19? Who is vulnerable and needs to be protected?

Health policies, like the lockdown, need to reflect the risks that various segments of society face when exposed to this virus. Officials keep reminding us that young people are also at risk of COVID-19; it's not just affecting people over 65. True, but that's not a very useful statement without some hard numbers to put these statements and anecdotal stories into perspective.

Members of every age group are testing positive for COVID-19. From the April 14th, 2020, Canadian epidemiology update, here is how all confirmed cases are distributed among the age groups:

This is remarkably similar to the age distribution of the Canadian population (see chart below), except for the 0 to 19 age group, which is disproportionately under-represented, and the 80+ group, which is disproportionately over-represented in confirmed cases.

Let's compare the two side-by-side:

So yes, members of every age group are catching the virus. Older people are disproportionately showing up in confirmed (tested) cases. And under 20's are either less susceptible to catching the virus or, more likely, this age group is mostly getting mild symptoms or is more likely to be asymptomatic and thus is less likely to be tested and show up among the confirmed cases.

Now let's look at how hospitalizations, ICU visits, and deaths are distributed among the age groups. That's where things start to get interesting.

The numbers shown in the chart above are not what we would expect if the virus affected every age group equally. If we focus just on the deaths, they are distributed very similar to how deaths are normally distributed across the age groups in Canada. The next chart compares normal Canadian mortality (in blue) to COVID-19 deaths (in orange). In both cases, deaths for each age group are shown as a percent of all deaths.

Not only is the age distribution of COVID-19 deaths very similar to normal mortality in Canada, but COVID-19 deaths are underrepresented in all age categories except for those over the age of 80!

Our Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, confirmed last Monday that nearly half of all COVID-19 deaths in Canada are occurring in long-term care homes. In other words, the COVID-19 virus is not just disproportionately targeting the elderly, almost half of deaths are among patients that are so old, weak, and sick from pre-existing conditions that they are no longer able to live alone. This echoes the data released by Italy, which shows the median age of all patients dying of COVID-19 to be 80 years old! All this raises the question of how many people who die of COVID-19 already have serious pre-existing health conditions or are already on palliative care. I'll answer these questions shortly.

However, first I'd like to provide one more perspective on the ever-growing COVID-19 death counts. Scale matters in order to understand our exposure to a risk. In 2018 (the most recent year for which there is data available from Statistics Canada) normal mortality in Canada was 283,706 deaths per year, which works out to 777 deaths per day, every single day of the year. In the US, normal mortality is approximately 8000 deaths per day; in Italy it is about 1800 deaths per day. Deaths are higher in the winter and lower in the summer. The chart below compares this average Canadian daily mortality to the daily COVID-19 death count in Canada:

Now let's look at the COVID-19 deaths in more detail to understand which segments of our population need protection from this virus, whether all these deaths should really be attributed to COVID-19, and whether a broad lockdown is useful for protecting those who are at risk.

How much do pre-existing health conditions affect the risk of developing serious symptoms or dying if you catch COVID-19?

Our government has warned that people with pre-existing medical conditions like heart disease, hypertension, lung disease, diabetes, cancer, or weakened immune systems have a higher risk of getting sick from COVID-19. Unfortunately, Canada's publicly-available epidemiology reports do not show how much these pre-existing conditions affects their risk. 

Fortunately, other countries have been publishing this data. The overwhelming majority of all serious symptoms and deaths, in all age groups, are among people with pre-existing health conditions. In Italy, less than 1% of all deaths had no other pre-existing health conditions! Data taken from an article in Bloomberg shows the breakdown in Italy:

It's not just deaths. Pre-existing health conditions are also involved in the vast majority of serious cases. Hospitalizations in the United States are shown in the chart below: 

The anecdotal media stories about healthy young people being hospitalized or dying because of the virus are giving the public a false impression of the risk to young people. Many (not all, but many) of these young people had serious pre-existing medical conditions. For example, Spanish football coach Francisco Garcia, age 21, who recently died of COVID-19 was suffering from leukaemia. Another media report that was meant to highlight the risk of COVID-19 to young people was about a 19-year-old from Alberta who was hospitalized with COVID-19 and had a very near brush with death. However, buried in the story was the fact that he was already suffering from mononucleosis prior to contracting COVID-19. In the vast majority of cases, pre-existing health conditions are what leads COVID-19 to be dangerous. Although there will, of course, be some exceptions (in all age groups), otherwise healthy people in all age groups are mostly experiencing mild or no symptoms. This fact in itself should give us pause about imposing a general lockdown instead of focusing on isolating and protecting the vulnerable members of society.

This leads us to the next question. Who is dying FROM the coronavirus and who is dying WITH the Covid-19 virus? Using a test to prove that the virus is present at the time of death does not automatically mean that the virus is the cause of death...

Counting deaths WITH versus deaths FROM the COVID-19 virus.

Once again, I will refer to the earlier example of the herpes virus. Imagine if every single person that died was tested for the presence of herpes simplex virus - every heart attack victim,every stroke, every case of AIDS, every case of cancer, and every case of old age. No matter what their cause of death, every person who also suffered from cold sores would test positive for the herpes virus and, if we impose the same reporting standard for herpes as we are currently using for COVID-19, then all of these people would suddenly be reported as having died from herpes. It's the perfect recipe for a fantastic health scare - a herpes pandemic of epic proportions, entirely created by how cases are tested and reported, and completely disconnected from reality.

There is a difference between dying WITH the COVID-19 virus (tests confirm the virus was present) and dying FROM the COVID-19 virus (the virus was the cause of death). Normally we depend on autopsies to determine whether a death was caused by an underlying condition or whether the patient's death was caused by a separate infection, such as influenza or COVID-19. Unfortunately, the fear of spreading the virus is severely limiting the number of autopsies that are currently being performed in COVID-19 cases. And once a disease becomes reportable (as is currently the case for COVID-19), all deaths are reported as COVID-19 if testing confirms the virus to be present, even if that is not ultimately what should be listed as the cause of death on the death certificate. During a pandemic, reporting all deaths (WITH and FROM) that test positive for the virus helps health authorities track the spread of the virus. But it is also extremely misleading for the public because it creates a false impression of how deadly the virus actually is. Not all of these deaths are caused by the virus! 

Autopsies from Germany show that underlying illnesses play a very important role or are even the decisive factor in COVID-19 deaths. The head of forensic medicine, Professor Klaus P├╝schsel, in Hamburg, Germany, has publicly declared that in Hamburg (where, at the time of writing, 3,869 cases and 67 deaths have been confirmed) "not a single person who was not already previously ill has died of COVID-19" and that "in all the cases they have examined, everyone either had cancer, chronic pre-existing pneumonia, heart disease, or were heavy smokers, obese, or diabetic" and that "COVID-19 was essentially the last drop that caused the barrel to overflow."

Professor Sucharit Bhakdi, a microbiologist and epidemiologist from Germany, gives the example of the first recorded COVID-19 death in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein (death number 52 in Germany): a 78-year-old patient in the final stage of terminal esophageal cancer who died in the palliative care unit of a hospital. This patient was tested for COVID-19 a few days prior to his death and, when the test came back positive a few days after his death, his death was recorded as having been caused by COVID-19. I recommend reading Prof. Bhakdi's open letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel (also available in English) where he discusses his criticisms of the current reporting methodology for COVID-19.

How many of the Canadian COVID-19 deaths were caused by the virus, in how many cases was the virus merely the "straw that broke the camel's back" of an already very sick or dying patient, and in how many cases did patients die of their underlying diseases (i.e. terminal cancer, etc.) while the COVID-19 virus actually played no role in the death despite being present (testing positive)? 

Preventable deaths - the price of panic

There are also many deaths that would be avoided without the current widespread panic. The general lockdown and the fear caused by the never-ending death counts are actually putting vulnerable members of our society at risk because hoarding of medical resources (like masks) is preventing staff members in hospitals and nursing homes from having adequate protections to prevent the spread of the virus. There are now also cases of staff members abandoning their patients out of fear for their own lives and their families' lives because they do not have the protective gear to protect themselves while at work. And because testing and quarantine measures are being spread across the entire population, less resources and less medical oversight is available to protect those who are most in need of protection. The tragic stories of the large number of deaths at the Herron Residence in Dorval, Quebec, and the Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, Ontario, (both long-term care homes) should serve as stark warnings.

The London Times reports that there is a current surge in deaths in Britain; last week had 6000 more deaths per week than usual. The normal five-year average for Week 14 in Britain is 10,305 deaths per week, but last week it was 16,387. Yet the London Times reports that as many as 50% of these extra deaths might NOT be COVID-19 deaths (neither "with" nor "from" COVID-19), but rather are caused by the unintended consequences of the lockdown and the panic. People are avoiding going to hospital despite having life-threatening conditions, like heart attacks. Fear is also making it harder for people to manage diabetes or high blood pressure. Important life-saving surgeries are being cancelled, serious conditions are not being diagnosed in time, and treatment regimes for life-threatening conditions are breaking down because people are avoiding medical facilities.

Comparing apples: there is no evidence that the lockdowns helped

In a twist of irony, countries like Sweden, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, which practiced good hygiene and some level of social distancing throughout the pandemic, but did not resort to a full lockdown, have not had worse outcomes than countries that went into full lockdown mode. The UK (with lockdown) and Sweden (without lockdown) are on similar trajectories in terms of the numbers of cases, adjusted for population size. 

Based on the April 19th daily epidemiology report issued by Sweden's Public Health Authority, new intensive care cases plateaued on March 22nd and have declined to almost nothing since April 12th, as shown in the chart below: 

The report also shows that deaths peaked on April 7th, and have also dropped off to almost nothing, as shown in the chart below:

The April 15th Epidemiological Bulletin, produced by Germany's Robert Koch Institute, shows that by the time Germany began serious restrictions on public gatherings on March 16th, the virus had long-since past its peak spread. And by the time the full lockdown was issued on March 23rd, the virus was already dying out. 

The annotated chart below, taken from the report (my annotations), illustrates this graphically by showing how the number of new infections per person (the R0 value) changes over time. An R0 value greater than 1 means the virus is spreading in a population; the larger the number the faster it is spreading. An R0 value less than 1 means the virus is dying out. In other words, the lockdown had NO effect; it's the classic case of slamming the barn door after the horses have already escaped. 

And finally, a study published on April 8th, 2020, in the prestigious Lancet medical journal suggests that, based on comparisons with the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, there has been very little benefit to shutting down schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It's understandable that we all panicked during the early days when information was scarce and the death count began ticking again. But now we have better data and its long past time to stop digging the hole we're in any deeper. The responsible thing for governments to do now is to reverse course immediately, lift the lockdown, and embark on an aggressive public information campaign to put a seriously panicked public at ease.  

The unintended consequences of giving a virus a name

The moment you give a virus a name, elevate it to the status of a reportable disease, and start tracking every case in the media, everything gets much more difficult to manage. Hospitals have to change how they operate because reporting requirements are different for reportable diseases. Isolation protocols have to be implemented for patients. Far more precautions have to be taken by medical staff to protect patients and staff. And staff have to be isolated if they test positive for the virus. 

Then there is the panic that spreads to the population when they see the daily death counter ticking away in the media. Everyone with a sore throat or a fever rushes to hospital to get tested. Medical supplies get hoarded. Global supply chains for everything from medical supplies to food and toilet paper begin to sufferNursing home patients that hoped to pass away peacefully in their beds surrounded by their loved ones are suddenly rushed to hospital to be put on respirators and die without the comfort of being surrounded by family. And public fear prevents politicians and health officials from reversing course even if the data changes, as Quebec Premier Fran├žois Legault discovered when he suggested reopening schools in Quebec earlier this week.

Imagine if we gave each winter's influenza strain its own name, imagine if every death in hospitals and nursing homes was tested for the presence of influenza, imagine if we stopped distinguishing between "deaths from" and "deaths with" influenza, and imagine if the media then reported every death that tested positive for the presence of influenza as having been caused by the flu and presented those numbers to us as a running total on the front page of every newspaper in the country. The panic would be immense. We would have a massive pandemic requiring a lockdown every single winter. 

The reality is that every single year, influenza causes 1 billion infections worldwide. That is not a typo. And contrary to public perception, the winter flu is not "not dangerous." Globally it causes 3 to 5 million cases of severe illness and about 290,000 to 650,000 deaths every single year. In Canada it causes 12,200 hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths per year while in the US there are 9 to 45 million illnesses, 140,000 to 810,000 hospitalizations, and 12,000 to 61,000 deaths from influenza every single year. And bear in mind, these are deaths FROM influenza, not WITH influenza. 

The charts below show how symptomatic cases, hospitalizations, and deaths stack up by age group for the 2017/2018 influenza season (a particularly bad year) in the United States. As you can see, like COVID-19, although all age groups catch influenza, hospitalizations and deaths are once again heavily biased towards the elderly. 

Yet there are no lockdowns, no widespread wearing of masks in public, no mandatory quarantines, no social distancing, no health officials instructing us on how to wash our hands, and no toilet paper hoarding. 

Like with COVID-19, underlying health conditions dramatically increase the risk of developing serious symptoms or dying from influenza. And these deaths are still occurring even though we have vaccines for various influenza strains, which are between 37% and 50% effectiveOur annual winter influenza pandemic has real teeth and bites hard, yet we accept and live with the risk and continue going about our merry business.

We should also remember that our already stretched healthcare system in Canada is routinely overwhelmed by the surge in hospital visits that is caused by influenza every winter. Ontario's biggest hospitals were filled beyond 100% capacity nearly every day in the first half of 2019The 2017/2018 flu season saw some hospitals in Quebec reach occupancy rates of 245%! In March 2019, this hospital in Kentville, Nova Scotia, had to set up beds in supply closets and kitchens because of overcrowding. Yet none of these stories led to widespread panic. They barely made the news. And because we didn't panic, we somehow manage to muddle through. 

You can see where I am going with this. There is a very high price for naming a virus.  It had better be bloody dangerous before we give it a name, because unintended consequences quickly spiral out of control once a named virus captures the attention of the media. 

Making policy decisions surrounding a health scare is a delicate balancing act between the health benefits for the vulnerable and the burden that is imposed on the rest of society. We must never lose sight of the costs of taking extreme measures; they must remain in proportion to the risks...

The price we are paying for our lockdown

Our current lockdown policy has a frightening price tag. The short-term consequences are scary enough. For example, our most recent Canadian Labor Force Survey shows that we have lost over one million jobs in the month ending March 21st (5.3% of our total labour force). Another 2.1 million have seen their hours reduced to less than half. Alberta is on track to reach 25% unemployment. Some areas of the country could reach unemployment levels of up to 85%. More than a million Canadians believe they are on the verge of bankruptcy. In Quebec, nearly half of landlords say they haven't gotten April rent yet. Real estate sales in Canada are expected to drop 30%. And a quarter of small Canadian businesses cannot pay their April rent or mortgage; a full 30% do not have the cash flow to pay their April bills. Demand at food banks is through the roof. It turns out there is no such thing as a non-essential job. There is nothing more essential than earning a living and feeding our families.

The long-term consequences after the lockdown ends look equally bleak and are getting worse with every extra day that this goes on. It's getting harder and harder to see how we can expect our economy to bounce back after the lockdown is lifted. In addition to a severe economic recession, we are sowing the seeds of a potential banking crisis, a potential debt crisis, and a loss of faith in our Canadian Dollar. When you add up government, corporate, and household debt, the total debt-to-GDP in Canada was already above 300% before the Coronavirus pandemic hit Canada. As I am writing this, the federal government has already added another $184 billion to the federal deficit (8.5% of GDP). That's just to tide us through the first quarter of the year. And bear in mind that this deficit is calculated based on past tax revenues, which are likely to fall off a cliff this year. StatsCan estimates that the Canadian economy contracted by 9% in March, the largest decline since records began in 1961. Our provincial governments, already among the most indebted in the world, are in even greater trouble than the federal government. Significant financial shortfalls are also starting to crop up in municipal budgetsAnd let's not forget that we will all have to pay for this, one way or the other, through higher taxes, higher interest rates, and inflation. Forcing everyone to stay home does not stop the bills from adding up. Our Shadow Minister of Finance, Pierre Poilievre, revealed on April 11th that our Bank of Canada is already unable to borrow enough money on international markets to meet our government's financial needs and therefore has begun printing money out of thin air; $5 billion per week, which works out to over $250 billion over a year! The chart below, from the Bank of Canada website, shows how much the Bank of Canada has expanded its balance sheet to deal with the crisis so far. We are sitting on a barrel of gunpowder and playing with matches.

Our health and psychological well-being are also paying a huge price. Domestic abuse, isolation, depression, fear, drug and alcohol abuse, and the risk of suicide are all on the rise. Broad statistics from across the country are a little harder to find, so we'll have to rely on anecdotal reports to get a sense of the impact. As early as March 17th, the Kids Help Phone in Toronto had already seen a 350% increase in calls. By March 30th, two mental health crisis lines in London, Ontario, reported a 42% and a 50% increase in calls. In the province of Quebec call volumes to telephone crisis hotlines tripled. The most grim statistic comes from south of our border - the state of Indiana's 211 hotline has seen mental health and suicide distress calls rise from 1,000 to 25,000 calls per day. 

Nor should we underestimate the cost of isolating seniors in their homes or preventing them from receiving visits from family members. Loneliness has a measurable impact on life expectancy. And there is something truly cruel about depriving dying patients the comfort of being surrounded by their family members during their last days and hours.

And who is keeping track of the death toll and the reduced life expectancy of patients who do not have COVID-19 but are seeing their surgeries cancelled, organ transplants delayed, cancer treatments being put on hold, or not getting early diagnoses for potentially life-threatening conditions because we are trying to free up intensive care units? 

These and a growing number of other unintended consequences of the lockdown need to be weighed against the risks of the virus. How much misery and harm can you reasonably impose on the healthy to offset risks to the vulnerable? And how much unnecessary misery and harm are we inflicting on the vulnerable by including the rest of society in measures best suited only to protecting those most at risk?

What's next?

It is time to end this lockdown. Not tomorrow, not next week, not in May. Immediately. And not in stages. All of it at once. 

There is such a thing as an excess of caution. We have taken the precautionary principle to an absurd extreme; a sober analysis of the growing data shows that our measures are completely out of proportion to the risk. There is no doubt that COVID-19 is dangerous for those with underlying health conditions and they should be protected. However, for the rest of us, the COVID-19 virus is far less of a threat than first anticipated. 

Those who have pre-existing health conditions should continue to voluntarily shelter at home. And we should make every effort to keep the COVID-19 virus out of nursing homes, long-term care homes, hospital wards, and remote communities that have little or no healthcare infrastructure. But if the vulnerable continue to shelter at home, their risk does not increase just because the rest of us are released from our caves. 

Sheltering at home, just like the decision to expose ourselves to risks, should be voluntary, not enforced by law. The role of government is to inform, not to control; to provide services, not to beat its citizens with a stick. In a free country, every individual should have the right to decide what risks they are willing to take in order to strike the right balance between the competing risks and priorities that they face in their lives. If we give away that right every time a wolf prowls outside our gates, then our freedom is not a right, but merely a privilege. The price of freedom is living (and dying) with the consequences of the risks that we each choose for ourselves. If we are no longer willing to pay the price that comes along with freedom, then we have turned our backs on our most precious right. Liberal democracy is not about comfort and security, it is about liberty. Generations of our ancestors fought hard to wrestle this right out of autocratic hands; but it is up to each generation to keep this candle lit.

As long as the vulnerable continue to take shelter at home, our healthcare system will not get overwhelmed while the virus passes, even if the rest of us go back to normal life where we can acquire herd immunity through mostly mild or asymptomatic encounters with this coronavirus. This, in turn, will only help the virus die out sooner so that the vulnerable can soon choose to rejoin their families and friends in public life. The rest of us should make it a habit to wash our hands more than usual, stop touching our faces, practice self-isolation if we come down with symptoms (the same protocols that are recommended for fighting influenza), and go back to our normal lives, immediately. The growing body of data, both in Canada and from around the world, simply does not support any other course of action. 

The politicians and health officials in charge of managing the crisis here in Canada continue to tell us that the "science is clear" and to "trust in the science." That is NOT how science works. Science is a public process that depends just as much on the questions asked by critics as it depends on those collecting the raw data and performing the scientific studies. Without critics and public debates, the scientific process cannot function. 

Why should you listen to me? Frankly, you should do your own research, dig into the data (the links I have provided are merely a starting point), and come to your own conclusions. And above all, you should put the questions that I have raised in this article to our politicians and health officials. Our government works for us, not the other way around. We are not subjects in King Louis XIV's France who can be kept in the dark. And this is not an authoritarian one-party-state that utterly ignores the basic rights of its citizens in order to save face, silence its critics, and avoid accountability.

Accountability requires transparency and the right to ask questions, especially during times of crisis when snap decisions are being made that have a draconian long-term impact on all our lives. Important decisions should not be made simply based on the authority or credentials of those in charge. We have a right to see their data and to get answers to our questions, like those raised by this article, before we continue to submit to the significant restrictions and economic devastation that they are unleashing upon us. 

Please share this article with your friends and family. Let's start the conversation and reopen the economy!


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