Right in the centre - An inquiry please


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

There have been numerous calls for the Manitoba government to launch a review of how the COVID-19 pandemic was handled. The calls are well founded.

Over 1,700 people died in Manitoba, the majority of whom were care home residents and people with compromised health. The economy was severely hampered. Schools and students’ lives were disrupted. Social networking was placed in disarray or disappeared entirely for many people. Both the federal and provincial governments spent hundreds of millions of dollars to try and fend off the multiple effects of C-19. The huge flow of money was used to help businesses, individuals and, of course, to actually fight C-19. 

As C-19 appears to be diminishing, it’s time to take a very serious look at what went wrong, what worked and, maybe most important, what efforts were of little value, or useless? Or, at worst, harmful.

The tragedy of the care homes showed us that care homes aren’t funded adequately and that there were some rules that didn’t make sense. In the early stages of C-19, for example, care home workers and visitors had to have their temperatures taken. That made sense. Then the clamp downs began and visitors were banned, even when the visitors were family members and volunteers that were essential to maintaining the well-being of residents. Countless care home residents died from loneliness, neglect that could have been addressed by volunteers and loved ones. Loved ones and volunteers were basically banned from care homes and hospitals. That meant that  there often wasn’t someone to offer a glass of water or to help feed residents between meal times.  Some care homes had fatality rates as high as one in three residents. With all those factors in mind, there should be a report on care homes, at least. If a report has been done on all care homes, it hasn’t been made public. The public needs to know, to be re-assured that the harsh lessons of C-19 won’t have to be re-learned over and over again.

An inquiry should be conducted, but not by a high-priced outside consultant. God knows, we have had enough of those over the years on various topics. The people who are actually at the front lines, the health care leaders are capable of contributing a report. In fact, they are obliged to do so. They are also, along with all the workers at all levels in the health care system, best equipped to know what’s going on. They were there at the front line and saw the devastation. 

Let me illustrate with a story my father told me from WWII. In the summer of 1940, at age 32, he joined the Royal Winnipeg Rifles. He trained at Shilo and one day, he and his fellow soldiers were being instructed in trench warfare, a practise that saw extensive and deadly use in WWI. The instructor of the day was telling the troops that if an enemy plane flew by, that the soldiers should try to shoot it down. After the session was over, an older soldier, who had actually fought in the trenches in WWI, took the “boys” aside and told them to ignore the instructions. He said if an enemy plane came over and they fired at it, it would only reveal their position more clearly and the pilot could circle back and strafe the trenches, possibly killing or wounding many soldiers. He said to ignore the plane and report its position to headquarters so a plane might be sent out to hunt down the enemy fighter plane.

The advice makes sense and applies to our health care system. It’s the people who have been in the trenches who can best determine what went right and what went wrong. The public deserve to know and I am certain every health care worker would like to have their say. It’s the least we can do for health care to make sure that none of our elderly and compromised have died in vain. There’s 1,700 reasons to have an inquiry.

On the economic side, we need an inquiry too. Did masks work or not? Did hand washing and social distancing work? Did business lockdowns work? Some may have, but small stores had to shut down and that made no sense. Most had, and still have, low volumes of customers. Large stores opened, but at half capacity. Why not small stores too? Some stores had to rope or curtain off certain “non-essential” items. That made no sense at all. 

Whether the Manitoba government has the sense to do an inquiry remains to be seen. They have done some really good things, but there were tons of errors too.

Now is the time for an inquiry before we face another pandemic as unprepared as we were for the last one.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being the view of the Banner & Press staff.