What Ontario can learn from other countries when managing through a pandemic

First, a bit of context…

Ontario has a population of 13.5 million, 220 doctors/100000 people, and a GDP of $$60,000/person.

Senegal has a population of 15.8 million, 7 doctors/100000 people, and a GDP of $3,675/person.

Taiwan has a population of 23.6 million, 160 doctors/100000 people, and a GDP of $26,910/person.


And yet Ontario has had over 441,000 cases of COVID-19, while Senegal – objectively having a the most fragile health care system – has had around 40,000 cases, or roughly 10% of Ontario’s caseload for a similar population, and Taiwan has had just over 1000 cases.


Why the difference and what could we learn for the next pandemic

In Ontario, a year ago, many thought the worst would be over by autumn; vaccines were just around the corner and case numbers were trending downward. As a result, lockdowns were incomplete, with many businesses being allowed to operate as “essential”. Or, after criticism the lockdowns were causing mental health and economic decline, businesses were allowed to re-open. Messaging from the government was inconsistent, confusing people with respect to the rules, procedures, and processes and so people went to the beach or had parties. Unofficial channels, such as faith groups and other community networks, where not fully engaged to communicate with their respective members active steps that could help contain COVID-19 spread.


Now Ontario is deep into a third wave, intensive care units are overwhelmed, the federal government is offering disaster relief assistance, and health experts, scientists, & ordinary citizens are frustrated at the ineptitude on display.


And Ontario has over 441,000 cases.


Senegal, on the other hand, has followed a different path. In the words of Macky Sall, the president of Senegal, “The main lesson of our first lockdown for me was go early, go hard and keep it simple…we benefited from a rapid and economical COVID test with a 24-hour turnaround for results; the requisitioning of hotels to quarantine victims; and clear communication, specifically directed where most needed, using different platforms for the range of different communities we had to address. For some in our cities, that was television. Others were easier to reach on social media, but the madrasas and churches were vital to reach the wider population, as were some of our more cultured citizens. I am grateful to the artists, singers and other stars who turned to song, or painted murals, making it crystal-clear what was required of our people to stay safe. Washing hands, wearing masks, keeping your distance are simple instructions, so why complicate them? Why mess around, confusing the message, delaying the action and losing momentum?


And even now, as they move past a second phase, Senegal has had around 40,000 cases.


Taiwan is another country that displayed its success in conquering the virus. With a population of 23.6 million, much greater than Ontario, Taiwan has had only 1078 cases and 11 deaths since the start of this pandemic. Surprisingly, the island did not ever initiate a strict lockdown or school closure. The country prioritized virus containment through case-based and population-based measures. The cased-based method included detection and isolation of positive cases via testing, contact tracing and 14-day quarantining of close contacts. Population-based measures included the use of masks, personal hygiene and physical distancing.


The Taiwanese government took the direly needed preventative measures to circumvent the potential serious consequences the virus could have created. It invested in mass testing and efficient contact tracing methods, along with a heavy increase in the production of masks and PPE. This led to the absolute containment of the virus. Where Taiwan could have potentially reached nearly 38,000 daily cases within 60 days, the cases have only gone just over 1000 in the last year.


While the procedures mentioned above were the reason for the elimination of COVID-19 in Taiwan, the most important piece of it all was speed. They acted quicker than almost any nation by immediately laying out a plan to tackle the raging pandemic. As a country, Taiwan can be known as the exemplary model of being proactive.


Who knows what can realistically be done now in Ontario to change our COVID-19 path?


But there will be future pandemics. And we need to manage them differently by looking at COVID-19 successes from other countries. And no one wants to repeat the costs we see now and expect over the next several months.


Let’s hope the government of the day takes its cues from the best examples available.

Authors

Ahsan Zaman, Principal Consultant

Younus Imam, Principal Consultant