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Will Manitoba’s new lockdown do more harm than good?

This week, as the province makes efforts to combat the surge on Covid-19 cases, the province of Manitoba reentered another lockdown.

Manitoba’s Premier, Brian Pallister, told the National Post “We are at a critical point in our fight against COVID-19, and we must do everything we can to protect our most vulnerable Manitobans and ensure our health-care system is there for Manitobans, when they need it. This is a team effort, and we all have a role to play in protecting ourselves, our loved ones and our community. By taking these measures seriously, we are going to save lives.”

While this is smart messaging from the Premier, as everyone feels guilted into working together for the good of the community, is the claim he made actually true? Will another lockdown in Manitoba save lives?

Well, on the one hand, you have to consider the obvious effects of Covid-19. So far the province has had 9,782 cases, with 6,030 of those still active, and 132 deaths. For a population of 1.369 million, those aren’t the worst numbers at all. Of course, each and every human life is precious and it is tragic that this virus has killed even one person.

However, when it comes to public policy decisions, there are always tradeoffs to be made. Whether the government takes action, in the form of a lockdown for example, or takes a more hands off approach, a certain amount of people will sadly die in either circumstance.

The government has once again chosen to go with the lockdown method, despite the W.H.O. now strongly recommending against such a policy. The impact of another lockdown on already weakened and struggling businesses, particularly in the travel and hospitality industries, will be devastating if it lasts for anything longer than a few days.

The only way the Manitoba government can justify another lockdown is if they use it in a very short period of time, something which has not been clearly indicated on their part. If this lockdown drags on for weeks or even months, the economy will again experience a major downturn, people will lose their jobs, incomes, houses, and experience heightened levels of mental health challenges and an increased risk of suicide.

As it stands, Manitoba’s economy was making a pretty solid comeback from the first lockdown. However, an extended second lockdown will erase all those gains that have been made over the last few months.

Looking at the prospect of increased suicide, the province already has one of the highest rates in the country, with 189 people committing suicide in 2018, the most recent stat I could locate. While this is not quite on par with Covid-19 deaths, especially if the cases keep climbing, it is an important factor for the government to monitor and consider when making its decisions.

Another factor for the government to consider is the age of those impacted most by Covid-19. At this point, the science is very clear - this is a virus that most impacts elderly people. Across the entire country, only 3.3% of Covid-19 deaths came from those under 60 years old.

Why not, instead of another brutal lockdown, doesn’t the government consider focusing their efforts on the most vulnerable portion of the population? Such a targeted approach could consist of guidelines (not laws) on how to interact with elderly loved ones, designated times and spaces for seniors in public areas, and general health and wellness advice like increasing your vitamin D intake and exercising regularly.

The challenge of Covid-19 is a complex one. The policies implemented to manage Covid-19 must be equally nuanced and detailed. The binary choice of lockdown or no lockdown is not the only way to approach this issue.

The people of Manitoba deserve better from their government. A second lockdown with no clear expiry date will only serve to do more harm than good.

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