These are not easy times for politicians. It’s a wonder anyone wants the job.
In Quebec and the other provinces in Canada as well as around the world, governments have insisted upon sending youngsters back to school. They say online learning and homeschooling is a poor substitute for in-school education, and the kids need to interact with their peers. (High-school and college students continue to click in to online courses, with some attending in-school courses part-time.)
The kids seem to be happy to be back at school, and most parents seem to agree with the decision to send them back.
The bottom line, of course, is the bottom line: the economy. Get the kids back to school, get their parents back into the physical workplace (though, many offices are resisting that and employees continue to work from home). The economy is hurting badly because of earlier lockdowns and current social distancing measures. Many small businesses have already folded and many others will not survive, especially in the restaurant and bar industries that have strict limits on the numbers of customers they can serve and who rely on office workers.
Politicians and their health advisers expect some young ‘uns to contract COVID-19, but they reason that the kids will be OK. They will recover quickly, if they show any symptoms at all.
But surely they know the children will spread the disease to siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and others. And that some people will become seriously ill as a result. And some will die.
It’s a no-win situation. Politicians are making life-and-death decisions that could backfire big time. Already — no surprise — Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia are seeing their COVID-19 numbers rise again, and children and their teachers are contracting the virus. Governments are bracing for a second wave, which may have begun, even if not officially labelled as such.
During the first wave in the spring, elderly people in nursing homes had the highest mortality rate in Quebec and many other places around the world. Perhaps the government feels they will be better protected this time around. But there are a lot of seniors and elderly people who are still independent.
Quebec hasn’t ruled out further lockdowns. They’ve adopted a wait-and-see attitude along with an alert system (green, yellow, red) that could lead to regional lockdowns.
They are gambling with lives — and with their political futures. I bet that people who voted for them in the last election won’t do so again if they lose loved ones because youngsters were forced to go back to school and brought the virus home.
And if the second wave turns out to be worse than the first with more deaths, the economy could completely implode and governments will fall.
I’m guessing politicians are protected in cases like these from criminal negligence charges and the like. After all, they are following the advice of health professionals — though maybe not so much at the federal level in Washington, DC and Brazil and other countries that have been in denial since this all began.
But people may die as a result of politicians’ decisions to force the youngsters to go back to school, and opposition politicians will be reminding everyone of that fact during the next election campaign.
You might be wondering: it’s easy to second-guess from the sidelines. What would I have done if I were making the decisions?
I wouldn’t have sent the kids back to school this fall. I would have waited it out until at least Christmas and appraised the situation then. The kids would have been alright, and maybe more elderly people would have lived to unwrap presents on Christmas morn.
As for the economy, it’s just numbers on paper and computer chips. Maybe it’s time to rethink that, too — but that’s a subject for an upcoming post.
P.S. My colleague Aaron Derfel, the Montreal Gazette’s health reporter, has been doing an outstanding job of covering the pandemic. He also tweets out series of important information. If you live in Quebec, I strong urge you to follow him there.