This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.
Theresa Tam repeatedly said the risk was low & COVID cases would be rare. She naively trusted China & relied on the WHO. 20,000 Canadians are now dead.
The patient was a man who’d traveled from Wuhan, China to Toronto. His wife and traveling companion would test positive the following day. But Canadians were told there was nothing to worry about.
“The patient has been managed with all appropriate infection and prevention control protocols, so the risk of onward spread in Canada is low,” declared Theresa Tam, this country’s Chief Public Health Officer. “Our systems are working….the risk to Canadians remains low” she said again (see the beginning of the above video).
27 days earlier, Taiwanese authorities had begun boarding planes from Wuhan to check for symptoms before passengers were permitted to disembark. When Wuhan health authorities announced they were in a “state of war” with the virus on January 23rd, and began locking down a city the size of Paris, Taiwan once again took decisive action, cancelling Wuhan entry permits and banning its residents.
But Canadian authorities remained eerily complacent. On January 29, Tam testified before a parliamentary committee. One elected Member of Parliament noted the UK was asking those arriving from China to self-isolate for two weeks. Would we be taking such action?
Tam was dismissive. The key to preventing the virus from spreading, she insisted, was “rigorous contact tracing and monitoring.” Expecting travelers from China to self-quarantine would interfere with their freedom “to move about in the community.” These travelers would be “stigmatized” if asked to “take measures beyond what is currently the public health evidence.”
But there was a big fat problem. That ‘evidence’ came from an untrustworthy source – China’s Communist government. It came from a country in which information is tightly controlled, in which the media has no ability to probe government statements, to highlight false claims.
Rather than displaying proper skepticism, Tam swallowed China’s line whole. There was little reason to be concerned about international travel, she said. After all,
China is not letting anyone leave Wuhan…Anyone who leaves – and that case is extraordinary – has active screening before being allowed to get on a plane…There is actually strict screening before anyone can board a plane and leave… [source]
The official in charge of keeping infectious diseases out of our country believed that. She fell for Chinese government propaganda. If her description of events had been accurate, the virus wouldn’t have spread to every corner of the globe within weeks. But Tam’s testimony was like an over-the-top, pro-China press release:
Chinese authorities will not let anyone who might be infected on the plane…What we have seen, given my close communication with [the World Health Organization] is how impressed they are by the work of China. The astoundingly rapid way in which they tried to get a handle on what is causing the outbreak…the incredibly extraordinary measures that China has put in place to try to contain this within its borders… [see here, here, and here]
A year later, it’s clear Tam’s trust was misplaced. She herself explained to the committee that the WHO’s main concern isn’t necessarily countries such as ours:
Right now, the World Health Organization is particularly worried about countries without capacities, particularly in the African region…They have to look at the whole world.
Nevertheless, she deposited all our eggs in that basket. The WHO “does not recommend travel bans,” she told the committee. “We are a signatory to the international health regulations and we’ll be called to account if we do anything different.”
This is the world we now inhabit. Canada’s chief public health officer refused to take extra precautions. She refused to go above and beyond WHO recommendations. Why? Because the WHO might scold her, later.
Reading her testimony now, it’s astonishing how smug Tam sounds, how frequently she insists there’s no cause for concern. We are “watching very carefully,” she soothes. Measures are in place to “make sure” infections don’t spread. Protocols and procedures will “ensure” the Canadian public is kept safe. “We’ll be very meticulous on how we work through all those processes…to ensure that Canadians here are protected.”
Members of the committee ask, again and again, if she’s certain we shouldn’t be taking stronger measures. Again and again, she says everything’s under control:
For sure, in the general population in Canada, the risk is low…for the general public who have not been to China, the risk is low…Canada’s risk is much, much lower than that of many countries. It’s going to be rare…We are preparing the whole country in the event that you might pick up a rare case..It is going to be rare….” [bold added, see here, here, here, and here]
Theresa Tam was wrong. Her plan to keep the virus out of Canada failed. Her assurances were worthless.
In the year since then, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of 20,000 Canadians. We currently have no idea when this nightmare will end, what the final death toll will be, or how many Canadians who’ve survived COVID will endure permanent health damage.
Taiwan, with a population two-thirds the size of ours, has recorded fewer than 1,000 infections. A grand total of 8 people have died from COVID in that country.
Taiwan made its own decisions. Canada outsourced ours.
Taiwan’s approach worked. Canada’s did not.
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