Manitoba is at a pandemic low – not in infections, they are high – but in the government’s response. We are now encouraged to rat out fellow citizens on a “snitch line”. Officers have been hired to hand out tickets carrying hefty fines to business owners and individuals who do not comply with the blizzard of confusing regulations being pumped out by a government that is clearly struggling.
It is not clear that all of these regulations are legally valid. Some seem to have little to do with keeping the healthcare system operational – the government’s rationale for stripping citizens of their rights. For instance, some businesses are being shut down, while others are allowed to stay open. Some items can be sold, while similar items remain wrapped in plastic. Churchgoers are being harassed. It makes no sense. And hypocrisy appears to rule the day. A politician who has shut down a restaurant where diners sit six feet apart can eat a meal on an airplane six inches from their seatmate.
It is not lost on us that the rule makers, as well as bureaucrats, academics, and other members of the comfortable class receive their full paycheques while Zooming comfortably from their own homes, while those of modest means are exposing themselves to the virus to earn smaller paycheques.
This unfairness is also not lost on those trying to keep small businesses alive. Many of these small business owners have made huge sacrifices to make their businesses safe. Now they are told that it is not good enough, and they must close again. They are being sacrificed, while the Zoomer crowd makes no sacrifice at all. In fact, it has become very clear that the lockdown rules have been hardest on lower-income earners and small business people.
And the fear that is being spread is beyond anything reasonable. This is an extremely contagious virus that is highly lethal for certain groups, such as elderly people with co-morbidities, and those who are obese. People who are in high-risk groups for COVID-19 should probably personally “lockdown” – that is, isolate themselves. However, for the vast majority of healthy people, it is seldom deadly. Given this, how is it that even healthy people are living in fear? Thousands of people die each year in this province from many causes, why do only COVID deaths matter?
When the next virus comes along we must do better. Closing schools did great harm to children from less fortunate families, and it was not necessary. Businesses should not have been ordered shut – all businesses are “essential”. Health officials should give us the best information available, and let us make our own health decisions.
The government clearly has a role. Crowd sizes can be limited, hospital systems beefed up, nursing home protections enhanced, and unemployment programs buttressed. But quarantining the healthy population was a massive mistake that should never be repeated. The staggering sums spent on forced unemployment has compromised our children’s future.
The vaccines are coming, but meanwhile, we are living in the world of “snitch lines” – where the half of the population wanting even more government restrictions is pitted against the half that has called B.S. and has had enough of government overreach.
We can do better than this.
Brian Giesbrecht, a retired judge, is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash.