Ripping Off the Bandage

Commentary, COVID-19, Brian Giesbrecht

Coronavirus infection numbers have been spiking in parts of Manitoba. Brandon has seen a significant number of new infections, and is now considered a “code orange” area. Some of the limited local events scheduled have been cancelled, and some restaurants in the area have temporarily closed. 

The virus is spreading, in large part, because young people are no longer willing to do the social distancing they are told that they might have to do for years. This pattern can be seen in the rest of the world as well – young people not playing the game. Pleas from older people fall on deaf ears. Hard to blame the young people – they want their lives back.

Meanwhile, political leaders and public health officials receive conflicting messages. Some people want more restrictions, and some less. Worried parents and teachers move fearfully toward the reopening of schools. Business owners just try to survive.

Perhaps it is time to ask each other some hard questions. Suppressing the virus to “flatten the curve,” so that our hospitals were not overwhelmed, made sense. But our hospitals held up fine. Are we now doing the right thing by desperately trying to suppress the virus? Or are we acting like the proverbial Dutch boy trying in vain to hold back the sea by sticking his thumb in a hole in the dike?

Because the virus is not going away. And if the plan is to wait for a vaccine that will save us, that vaccine may be many months or years away – or it might never come.

So, instead of doing this dance indefinitely, where we open up, shut down when the numbers rise, and do that over again, how about this: We protect the elderly and vulnerable as best we can, social distance as much as we choose to, and let the virus run its course?

We know that this virus can be extremely deadly for certain groups – namely elderly people with additional health problems, obese people, etc. But we also know that for most healthy people the virus is usually no worse than any of the usual flus that make their way through populations. Why not accept the fact that some people will fall ill, as some people always do in a flu season, and then normal life can resume?

But does what we are doing now make sense? Our economy has been devastated. Deaths resulting from the lockdowns – for example, overdoses, suicides, cancelled surgeries, and delayed cancer treatments – are increasing alarmingly. Things will only get worse.

Swedish doctor, Sebastian Rushworth, likens our current dilemma to ripping off a bandage. You can tear it off excruciatingly slowly, and spread the pain over a long time. Or you can bite the bullet, and rip the bandage off quickly. That is what Sweden did. Instead of shutting down the economy and closing the schools, they tried to protect the vulnerable, gave honest information to their citizens, and let the virus proceed through the population.

They are now almost back to a normal. Total deaths are no worse than in the countries, like Britain, that devastated their economies, and are still battling the virus.

My vote is to get it over with: rip off the bandage.


Brian Giesbrecht, a retired judge, is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy