At the same time, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland announced the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada would be expanded to monitor funds raised by the Freedom Convoy through GoFundMe and cryptocurrency. Banks would also be able to freeze accounts of people suspected of contributing to this protest, without a court order. This has caused both average citizens and business owners embarrassment and potential harm to their livelihoods.
While some Canadians supported Ottawa’s decision out of frustration with the protests and blockades of border crossings like the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, others were furious. Mr. Trudeau was criticized for abandoning civil liberties, free speech and the right to protest. He’s been called a “tyrant,” “totalitarian” and “dictator.” The Canadian Civil Liberties Association took the prime minister and his government to court last week. Left-leaning newspapers like the Toronto Star have condemned him.
First the Canadian government threw science and the basic principles of public health out the window.
Now they are throwing democracy and the basic principles of human rights out the window.
The New York Times reports that the CDC so distrusts the public that it admits to withholding data. (HT my intrepid Mercatus Center colleague Veronique de Rugy). A slice:
Much of the withheld information could help state and local health officials better target their efforts to bring the virus under control. Detailed, timely data on hospitalizations by age and race would help health officials identify and help the populations at highest risk. Information on hospitalizations and death by age and vaccination status would have helped inform whether healthy adults needed booster shots. And wastewater surveillance across the nation would spot outbreaks and emerging variants early.
Without the booster data for 18- to 49-year-olds, the outside experts whom federal health agencies look to for advice had to rely on numbers from Israel to make their recommendations on the shots.
Kristen Nordlund, a spokeswoman for the C.D.C., said the agency has been slow to release the different streams of data “because basically, at the end of the day, it’s not yet ready for prime time.” She said the agency’s “priority when gathering any data is to ensure that it’s accurate and actionable.”
Another reason is fear that the information might be misinterpreted, Ms. Nordlund said.
States around the nation, including Democratic ones such as New York and California, are lifting indoor mask mandates. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention refuses to budge. It continues to recommend indoor masking in communities with substantial or high transmission — essentially the entire country — a stance that is particularly exasperating and harmful in regards to schools. The agency recommends masking all students ages 2 and older.
In congressional testimony, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky insisted that school mask mandates continue. The following day, at a White House briefing, Walensky, after acknowledging rapidly falling COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths, said the agency would reconsider its guidelines, but gave no indication any update would apply to schools.
Two days later, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief White House medical adviser, echoed his overcautious colleague, telling CNN that ending school masking would be “risky.”
From the start, it was clear that COVID-19 posed little threat to children. On a March 10, 2020 — one day before the World Health Organization declared a pandemic — Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, noted that only 2% of COVID-19 cases were in ages 19 and below and that they were not developing serious illness.
COVID-19, she said, is, “a disease that affects adults. And most seriously older adults. Starting at age 60, there is an increasing risk of disease and the risk increases with age. The highest risk of serious illness and death is in people older than 80 years. People with serious underlying health conditions also are more likely to develop serious outcomes including death.”
Nothing has changed since then. Less than two-tenths of 1% of COVID-19 deaths have been in people 17 and younger. School-age kids (ages 5-17) are currently just 2.7% of COVID hospitalizations.
Yet, whatever rationales were previously advanced to justify school mask mandates have long since disappeared and the benefit of masking children is outweighed by the cost.
Walensky has repeatedly cited an Arizona study that found schools without mask mandates were 3.5 times more likely to have COVID outbreaks than schools that required masks. Yet, as David Zweig showed in the Atlantic, multiple experts agree the study was so rife with methodological problems that its conclusions are worthless.
I use the phrase war on COVID on purpose, for there are clear echoes of both the war on drugs and the war on terror: long-running government campaigns championed by the political class and predicated on preserving public health and safety, which eventually proved futile at best, and deeply destructive and counterproductive at worst. Both involved a mix of largely symbolic acts, intended mostly to visibly demonstrate that something was being donem and more punitive initiatives that produced damaging effects that tended to fall heaviest on out groups with little political influence.
Those campaigns became permanent parts of the American political landscape in part because they offered ambitious bureaucrats and politicians paths to consolidate power, and in part because of the uneven distribution of their consequences. The first is obviously true for many COVID hawks, especially for public health authorities. But while the negative effects of COVID restrictions have certainly hit some groups harder than others (children, and children with learning disabilities in particular), the overall impact has been more widespread: Over the past two years, almost everyone in America has, at the very least, been inconvenienced or frustrated, if not worse, and for many, those inconveniences and frustrations have become fixtures of daily life.
Our public health authorities over-promised and under-delivered with the vaccines, squandering public trust in the process. This came on the wake of other failed pandemic policies of 2020, including the failure of masks, social distancing, disinfecting surfaces, and most disastrously, harmful lockdown policies, to stop the spread of the virus. Despite all these aggressive mitigation measures, estimates suggest that more than 70% of all Americans—vaccinated and unvaccinated included—have nevertheless been infected with Covid. As I have been arguing for some time now, natural immunity remains our primary way out of the pandemic. Yet our public health authorities continue to deploy the dubious “vaccinated vs. unvaccinated” distinction, rather than the more empirically defensible “more immune vs. less immune” distinction.
Pierre Lemieux writes insightfully about vaccine cost-benefit calculations. Here’s his conclusion:
It is true that in most Western countries, there was no legal obligation, sanctioned by legal punishments, to be vaccinated against Covid-19. The coercion, though, was more subtle and worked through several prohibitions and daily hurdles for unvaccinated individuals. We are quite far from benevolent advice or motherly nudging from disinterested politicians and wise bureaucrats; but that’s how Leviathan works.
At times, however, policy-makers did not put Covid-19 into context. Nor did they ask what responses would be possible, effective and proportionate. Indeed, we must recognise that too many interventions were ineffective, poorly evaluated and damaged important institutions. We must learn the right lessons for next time – and the time after, and the time after that.
When I contributed to UK pandemic planning around 2005-06, our work was admired throughout Europe because we approached it as a “whole of society” problem, not solely a public health one. We assigned leadership to the emergency planning team in the Cabinet Office, with its responsibility to engage every government department. Most other countries gave the lead to their health ministry. The UK thought this would focus the response narrowly on medical interests without regard to the wider impact on economy and society. The management of the Covid-19 pandemic throughout the UK has demonstrated that we were correct.
But there are other “never again” lessons from Covid-19.
Do not allow lab-based scientists to rip up established hierarchies of evidence in advising on policy interventions – or, worse, to be indifferent to the need to evaluate social and economic interventions. We need real world evidence of effectiveness, not expert beliefs in things like face masks or ventilation.
Do not rely on the blunt instruments of law and fear to bring the population along for a long haul. These will always produce conflict and injustice, weakening trust in government and public health institutions.
Do not undermine parliamentary accountability or pretend that responsible oppositions do not ask hard questions about the evidence and logic behind policies. The UK has already drifted too close to an elective dictatorship. This should be a moment to strengthen the review of government actions.
Do not treat modellers as oracles forecasting the future. Modelling is really important in its place, which is answering what-if questions from policy-makers, not driving policy.
More fundamentally, the modern world has developed unrealistic expectations of control over nature. In other areas of life, we tolerate risks to a certain level and accept that they cannot be wholly eradicated. Our forebears understood that death was unavoidable but we seem to aspire to immortality.
Imagine the uproar if, back in 2020, President Trump had frozen bank accounts belonging to key figures in the Black Lives Matter movement. Or consider the response if Boris Johnson used mounted police and pepper spray to stop Insulate Britain protesters blocking motorways. Yet when it comes to the Canadian truckers, left-wingers, including self-described liberals, have not just sat by and watched as the largest police operation in the country’s history cleared the streets, they cheered on Trudeau and applauded his emergency power grab. How do we explain this?
Many “liberals” fundamentally disagree with the truckers’ cause. What began as a campaign against vaccine mandates and passports rapidly became a protest against all lockdown restrictions. Yet throughout the pandemic, the left has been adamantly pro-lockdown. The only dissent has been to demand harsher restrictions. Of course, lockdown never actually extended to truck drivers. People required to sustain a middle class lifestyle were not only expected to go out to work but to agree that we were all in it together. Protesting lockdown restrictions exposes the lie that everyone was happy to have their freedom curtailed.
The left became suspicious of freedom, and people unleashed from restraints, long before the pandemic. But Covid has provided the perfect opportunity to ensure the general public is masked-up and socially-distanced at all times.
The truckers don’t just represent the wrong cause but they are also the wrong kind of protester. They leave their homes to work and perhaps get dirty in the course of making a living. And let’s be blunt: they are mainly middle-aged white men who are unlikely to be up to speed with the latest woke vocabulary. Gammon, in other words. The Ottawa protesters are neither flogging their own identity nor staking a claim to victimhood but fighting for something bigger than themselves. Today’s activists find this impossible to grasp.
There is no public health without freedom. Freedom is the defense of the poor and those with less. The rich have their lawyers and lands and for a while, they will be all right, but those who with less have their traditional freedoms as their bulwark and defense.