Protestors with an “End The Lockdown$” sign at Science World in Vancouver on May 3, 2020. (Desire Amouzou photo)

COLUMN: The call for full-scale economic reopening is an argument to cull the herd

If you believe the weak and elderly are expendable to save the economy, then please say so

Michael Grace was 89 years old when he died of complications due to COVID-19 at his long-term care home in Chilliwack.

He was born on April 10, 1931 at Ottawa General Hospital and moved to the Lower Mainland in 1962 where he lived a long life, working in the automotive industry, enjoying life on a farm, breeding horses.

That’s according to his obituary. I didn’t know Mr. Grace, nor do I know any of the approximately 150 people who have died in B.C. as a result of this novel coronavirus.

What I do know is that we are now in the process of lifting restrictions as part of phase two of getting the economy and our lives back to some semblance of new normal. There are those, however, who have screamed from the rooftops that this has all been a scam, that COVID-19 is nothing more than “the sniffles,” that seasonal influenza kills more people, and that the cost to the economy to do what is needed to be done has been too high.

• READ MORE: B.C. sees 2 deaths, 16 new COVID-19 cases over May long weekend on eve of phase two

What is left unsaid among those decrying public health orders, and the government and public health response so far, is quite simply that they would have been willing to trade the lives of the elderly and those otherwise immune-compromised.

They would have been willing to, essentially, cull the herd.

Conrad Black wrote in a recent column that the response to COVID-19 is “overblown,” and that the danger of death for 80 per cent of us is statistically insignificant so it’s time to end the “lockdown.” (Of course, no province has been in a “lockdown,” despite the irony of protesters free to go out and about with signs that say we should end the “lockdown.”)

Black is nothing if not consistent. Back in a March 27 column he said that the “world succumbed to a pandemic of hysteria, more than a virus.”

In his latest column he also said: “This is not a question of monetizing life and exalting commerce.”

But I think that is precisely what this argument amounts to, an argument that suggests those dying are mostly over 70 or have weak immune systems so, let’s the rest of us all get back to business as normal.

Superficially it may sound like a compelling argument, and is something I thought myself back in early March before I understood the basic epidemiology of a pandemic.

I recently chatted with a self-proclaimed Libertarian business owner I know, a man I respect and whom with I chat and joke often about political matters and current affairs. On the topic of COVID-19 he pointed out that 82 is about the average life expectancy in Canada, so why do you need another 10 years beyond that? I didn’t ask him to explain in detail what he meant, but I took it mean that we should not continue to fight this virus with public health measures at the expense of damaging the economy. These people are going to die soon anyway, right?

This notion that the weak are expendable is what Conrad Black argues (even if he denies it), and is what is implicit in the arguments of all who say open the economy no matter the human cost.

Maybe the elderly should be sacrificed so that business can come back sooner and stronger, and maybe culling this cohort of people is just what the economy needs. But if that is what is being argued, then please, I’d like to hear more honesty in the arguments.

Love it or hate it, neoliberal economics is often described as heartless. There is no room for emotions when it comes to cutting costs to increase profits, or reducing taxes in the hope that money trickles down.

Going too far to shut down the economy to save a handful of lives is indeed folly, even if that would be hard to admit. Enacting a mix of public health orders, guidelines and advice is a delicate balance that will in hindsight be criticized by some as being too Draconian and restrictive, while those who lost loved ones to COVID-19 will be left to wonder if only we could have done more.

We could have done more, been more restrictive, but how much worse would that have been for the economy?

We could have done less, not enacted restrictions and our supply of ventilators may not have been able to keep up, our hospitals may have been overwhelmed, and many more may have died.

Hindsight for some pundits and critics looking back on 2020 will almost certainly be just that, 20/20.

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