Past Pandemics Handled With Common Sense


By Brian Giesbrecht, Frontier Centre for Public Policy

Great events in history usually have one picture that manages to capture their essence. The iconic photo of the American troops planting the flag on Iwo Jima does it for WWII and the disturbing picture of the naked little girl running for her life from napalm, perfectly captures the horror that was the Vietnam War. But for Canada’s year of pandemic misery, that one iconic picture might well be the one of Alberta’s Pastor Artur Pawlowski, being forced to his knees on the pavement and handcuffed—for the “crime” of worshipping in his church.
How is it that our response to a virus has brought us to a point where our once cherished civil liberties have been trashed; our leaders threaten us and impose restriction upon restriction; and we are increasingly divided as a society? Previous pandemics did not do that.
For instance, the 1957 Asian flu and the 1968 Hong Kong flu, were both roughly as deadly. And yet, 1957 is known more for Russia’s Sputnik launch, while 1968 is famous for Woodstock. Were people back then less caring? Or did they have a better sense of perspective?
Governments back then took traditional, common sense measures to respond to the pandemics. They provided as much care as possible to the most vulnerable, but didn’t pretend that they could stop a virus. Schools and businesses were largely untouched and not even the most autocratic governments imposed massive restrictions. Pastors were not hauled off to jail—even in Russia.
So, why this time?
It appears that bad information last winter caused many leaders to panic and hastily adopt the untried lockdown experiment—quarantining the entire healthy population and shutting down entire economies. We are seeing the results now.
Fortunately, some adopted the traditional approach and did what everyone did in both 1957 and 1968, so we can compare results. At-risk groups were protected, but economies were left open. Sweden is the best known non-lockdown nation in Europe, but others also adopted a less restrictive approach. Like Sweden, South Dakota, Florida and other states adopted non-lockdown policies. Florida’s Governor, Ron DeSantis, admits that his initial decision to adopt lockdown policies was a mistake that he now regrets. Reopened schools and businesses and respect for individual health choices, make for a superior quality of life in Florida, compared to lock-down states, like New York and California.
Canada offers no such comparisons. Even premiers who initially opted for a less restrictive model gave into those demanding total control. The fear level—stoked by the media—has been so high that even young and healthy people believe (incorrectly) that the virus is likely to kill them. In fact, even many vaccinated people continue to live in fear. They insist on wearing masks—even outdoors—and believe that unvaccinated people are somehow a threat to them. It is bizarre.
Life in nations like Israel, Great Britain and much of America is now essentially back to normal. Canada remains far behind—not only in vaccination but in how so many are stuck in irrational fear.
New mutations (for some reason, called by the scarier term “variants”) will continue to come along. The good news is that the vaccines work and soon most will be vaccinated.
It is time to cast off debilitating fear and return to normal life.

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