Premier François Legault this week outlined a gradual plan for restoring education and business in Quebec as we report on our front page . We understand that many are still concerned. But the reality is that there is no measure that can absolutely protect anyone from catching Corona. As devastating as this virus can be, the number of people that catch it is relatively small. As we write this, some 185;000 Quebecers with symptoms have tested negative for corona. Some 26,000 Quebecers with symptoms have tested positive. And less than 10% of the latter require hospitalization. Out of a total Quebec population of about 8,500,000.
The lockdown and isolation were not to prevent anyone from getting Covid. It was to slow the anticipated pressure on hospitals. This assumption was based on models, many of which were flawed. What is now happening is that new infections have plateaued and hospitalizations and ICU admissions have dropped dramatically.
Almost all medical authorities now agree on several things. First, that short of a therapeutic drug or vaccine, communal immunity does naturally make Corona impotent. Second, that to reach communal immunity we need the rate of infection to reach 50-60% even if most people will be asymptomatic. Third, that urban areas are now at about 20-25%. Fourth, that a vaccine is about 18 months away.
Here is what happens if we wait for a vaccine as many would like. With the federal government’s deficit now running at $300 billion because of the relief packages sending money out and no revenue coming in as 80% of our commerce is shut down, by mid-July we would have trouble funding our hospitals. Yes it is that bad. Worse yet, our social security and pension systems would be compromised through underfunding and on the verge of collapse. Think about that if you care about our seniors and our unemployed. It would be nearly impossible to fund our schools by the fall. Think about that if you value your children’s development and futures.
Many of you are particularly upset that the Premier has decided to reopen elementary schools. We would implore parents to give this a chance. We must all find the courage for the common good. Remember that the Premier has said attendance is voluntary and up to the parents. Classes will be limited to 15 students to allow social distancing. School bus seating sill be one to a bench. All medical authorities agree that elementary school age children are at “minimal” risk and even if they carry the virus they do not get sick. Most of all, the Premier and Public Health director Dr. Horacio Arruda have made the point convincingly that not only do children need social interaction and that six months out of school will hurt their development, but that returning them all in September at the beginning of a new flu season would almost guarantee a much bigger second wave.
These are hard truths to accept we understand. But the alternative is that we will be living in a new abnormal that will be intolerable. There is the very real possibility that we will enter a second Great Depression that will rack more health and economic consequences than the first ever did. The Great Depression saw some 40% of our commercial activity closed. We are now at 80%. The Great Depression saw unemployment at 30%. We are now approaching 20%. Premier Legault is simply on the same track as many European countries including Italy and Germany and starting to cautiously open up. Scandinavian countries — to whom we so often look for social direction — such as Sweden and Denmark never went as far as we did in locking down and kept much of their economies and educational institutions open. Many American states are opening up. We cannot be stragglers. We need to stay competitive. Premier Legault was right when he said we “...have to find the courage to go out...” It is time. The negative consequences of fear may be irreparable.