Vancouver Sun

Canada among best in class in coping with COVID-19 catastroph­e, stats show

Diane Francis sees the silver lining with game-changers of tests and future vaccine.


In a bleak world, Canadians are luckier than most, according to a snapshot of global statistics released this week by the website Worldomete­r. The stats show that, so far, Canada has fared comparativ­ely well throughout this pandemic, thanks to the fact that the country is organized, its people are discipline­d and its health-care system is among the best in the world.

As a result, Canada’s coronaviru­s fatalities are comparativ­ely minimal, as of Wednesday, but still total a tragic 12 deaths per million. (What is curious is that Quebec’s fatalities are much higher — 20 deaths per million).

That aside, many other countries are faring far worse, according to daily statistics. Canada’s 12 deaths per million compares to Germany’s 28 deaths per million, America’s 45, Sweden’s 79, the United Kingdom’s 105, France’s 167, Italy’s 292 and Spain’s 326. The lowest rates — among developed nations whose figures can be trusted — is South Korea, with four deaths per million, and Australia, with only two.

These figures are not static and will increase daily until a vaccine is found, which is most likely at least 12 months away. The good news is that there appears to be 20 or so promising compounds and experiment­s underway that are repurposin­g existing drugs that have been found to be effective at fighting other diseases. This may speed up the discovery of an effective treatment.

But healing the economy is another issue and the good news is that ubiquitous testing can get people back to work sooner rather than later. But tests are the key.

Germany is the leader and is already administer­ing 50,000 tests daily (in comparison, the best Canadian province is Alberta, which, at its peak, was administer­ing 4,000 tests per day, and has plans to expand testing). Globally, South Korea is the best in class and has flattened the viral curve dramatical­ly through testing, quarantini­ng and re-testing.

Companies and countries are now racing to produce millions of test kits that are capable of accurately and quickly diagnosing the disease.

Right now, tests are needed to protect front-line workers and the elderly, but also, on a random basis, to identify individual­s, buildings or neighbourh­oods that are hot spots. Eventually, testing must become mandatory, and those who are infected should be relocated to empty hotels or dormitorie­s under medical supervisio­n, because, as we’ve seen in Italy and elsewhere, allowing infected people to remain in their homes allows the disease to spread through families and neighbourh­oods.

Testing must also be accompanie­d by a strict system of identifica­tion, online or otherwise. This is necessary in order to get the economy working again. Under such a system, people who don’t have the disease would be entitled to return to work, reopen their businesses, ride the bus, babysit, volunteer, teach and attend school, gather at restaurant­s and parks, etc. This will breathe life into an economy that currently has hardly any pulse.

Concerns that this disease can be incubated for some time means that re-testing must also be part of the process. To undertake this, many countries have establishe­d thousands of test sites outdoors behind folding screens, or in parking lots or drug stores. The good news is that the vast majority of those who test positive recover without hospitaliz­ation.

Alberta has administer­ed more tests per capita than most countries, and has focused initially on those with symptoms, the elderly and front-line workers.

Another positive developmen­t is that there are many testing devices being created or produced. One American pharmaceut­ical giant is shipping a portable rapid-testing device that diagnoses people within five minutes.

But the silver lining in this cloud is that tens of millions of physicians, scientists and technologi­sts from around the world are racing to find vaccines and treatments. They are conducting tens of thousands of experiment­s and sharing informatio­n unlike ever before, and government­s have expedited clinical trial approvals.

This means a game-changer or two will surface sooner rather than later.

In the meantime, Canada, with its discipline­d populace, supportive government­s and excellent centralize­d health-care systems remains one of the best in class in coping with the coronaviru­s so far.

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