Time to move on?

From the February 2022 print edition

I started writing the outline for this column in late December. At the time, COVID-19 was sweeping through the Hlinka family. My wife has a son by a previous marriage, a wonderful 19-year-old who has a part-time job as a barista. This means he encounters many different people. He came home from work one day not feeling well and took a COVID-19 rapid test. It indicated that he did not have the virus. Subsequently, he took a more rigid test and discovered that he was indeed COVID-19-positive which led him to quarantine in his room.

My wife, who was fully vaccinated, soon complained of mild cold-like symptoms. She asked me whether she should get tested. I told her that I didn’t understand why she would. It wasn’t going to change our behaviour. I suggested that she go to bed, take care of herself, stay away from other people. Then I started feeling very, very tired. For several days, I slept a good 10 hours each night and took long naps in the afternoon on top of that. Because I am a teacher and all of my classes were online, it meant that my work life was more-or-less unaffected. After several days of extreme fatigue, I recovered. One last thing: I, too, had been fully vaccinated.

The collective experience of our family underscored some valuable lessons about Covid-19 that I understood 22 months ago. If you are young and healthy, you have less rather than more to fear from this virus. I’m going to excerpt at length from an e-mail I sent to my students in March 2020:

“There is a great deal of information coming out of Italy about fatalities and who is at risk… and who is not at risk.

You are CFA candidates and you are capable of both understanding and communicating the meaning of these numbers. I would urge you to pass along this information to everyone you know. And keep in mind that these are numbers from Italy, a developed country and that – unfortunately – there have been in excess of 3,400 deaths, which means this is a meaningful sample:

  • The median age of death is 80.5 years old
  • The average age of death is 79.5 years old
  • 75 per cent of those who have died in Italy suffered from high blood pressure

It seems to me that anyone with a scintilla of common sense recognizes that this virus only seems to accelerate that which would be soon inevitable anyway.

Here’s what you should understand: The aged and those who are older with bad health should be very, very cautious. IF YOU HAVE PARENTS OR OTHER LOVED ONES AGED 80 OR GREATER, DO EVERYTHING IN YOUR POWER TO MAKE SURE THAT THEY MAINTAIN A STRICT QUARANTINE.

Those reading this e-mail have very little to worry about.”

Those reading this column almost certainly have very little to worry about.

By this time, even the dullest among us (which seems to include most democratically elected leaders) should realize that we are not going to stamp out COVID-19. It’s something we will be living with for the foreseeable future. It is crystal-clear that the vaccines do not prevent COVID-19. Rather, they seem to mitigate its effects. And this is not trivial.

It’s time to get back to business as usual. Government should not be imposing vaccine mandates. Government should not be imposing masking regulations. Sensible public policy would allow each economic actor to determine its own rules and regulations, and I’m going to use my local pub to explain how this should work.

When indoor dining was open, the staff was required to wear masks. Patrons were required to wear masks upon entering the establishment, then were allowed to take them off to consume beverages and eat food. It was absurd and due to government fiat.

Here’s the better way. Allow each bar or restaurant to establish its own policies. If a condition of entry was wearing masks, I would have told the owner and manager that if they wanted my business, they would have had to amend their policy. There would be some places where masking was required, and some where it was not. Some would require their employees to wear masks where those who understood the science would not make this useless requirement. That said, if some workers felt more comfortable wearing masks, fair enough. But there should not be any mandates, either at the city, provincial or federal level.

With 20/20 hindsight, we should recognize that the original quarantine of March/April 2020 was justifiable. We tried to flatten the curve. But after that, can’t we admit that all other restrictions have been useless? They haven’t stopped COVID and they’ve devasted many people financially.
Let’s get on with work, let’s get on with life.

Toronto-based Michael Hlinka provides business commentary to CBC Radio One and a column syndicated across the CBC network.