Analysis by Keith Rankin.
With respect to the Covid19 pandemic, our news media is biased towards the United States and Western Europe. Little do we know that the worst affected region of the world over the last month or two has been Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. This region was relatively unaffected in March and April. Two of the worst affected are Czechia (Czech Republic) and Slovenia; both are in the European Union and Slovenia is in the Eurozone. Slovenia – bordering Austria – has a higher GDP per person than five or six other countries in the Eurozone; on a par with Spain. And Slovenia is like New Zealand; it has world-class rowers and cyclists; and beautiful mountains and lakes.
In the first European wave of Covid19, Slovenia had similar levels of Covid19 to New Zealand; about magnitude 3.5 on known cases and nearer to magnitude 4 on all cases. Recovery in both Slovenia and New Zealand was comparatively quick. But then, from day 90 (20 May) to day 250 (27 October) Slovenia experienced persistent exponential growth of known cases, with deaths growing markedly from day 210 (17 September). While initially this exponential growth was due to more testing, from August it was clearly due to a growth of cases that would not be recognised for what it really was until far too late.
Since the end of October, Slovenia has been at magnitude 5 for known cases, substantially higher than the United States. Based on deaths, Slovenia’s daily case incidence has been at magnitude 5.5, one percent of the population catching Covid19 every 3 days. In the northern hemisphere autumn, almost all other Eastern European countries have had similar experiences.
One of the more scientific ways to analyse the epidemiology of Covid19 is to do a comparative analysis of states within federations (including the countries of the European Union). A particularly useful federation is Canada, a high incidence country with relatively few Covid-deniers, and a high degree of provincial autonomy.
Of particular interest is Manitoba, which had less than half the incidence of Covid19 in April compared to New Zealand. Now Manitoba is at magnitude 5, with daily infection rates at one per thousand people. Manitoba is now the worst in Canada.
Manitoba introduced mandatory mask-wearing in indoor public spaces in Winnipeg on 25 September 2020, and a much stronger province-wide mandate from early November. The impression I have is that mask mandates were used as an alternative to comprehensive testing and contact tracing. Further, even today, the only place in Canada subject to ‘stay-at-home’ orders is Toronto (in Ontario). This was clearly an unsuccessful strategy; Covid19 is out of control in Winnipeg.
In British Columbia, there was no mask mandate until 19 November 2020. While British Columbia fared substantially worse than Manitoba in April – see the deaths – its exponential growth in the second half of the year has been substantially slower than in Manitoba. Of course, there are other factors in play, such as the differing experiences of the neighbouring US states. Manitoba borders North Dakota, which was very badly hit a few months ago.
Overall, the worst-hit province in Canada has been Quebec. In April and May, Quebec was at case magnitude 5, worse than Italy. Nearly one person in a thousand in Quebec died of Covid19 in the period from late March to June, equivalent to 5,000 New Zealanders. In the autumn, Quebec quickly climbed to a magnitude 4.5 case incidence of Covid19, despite the implementation of mask mandates from July 2020.
Canada has been trying to use masking as a substitute for lockdowns. It doesn’t work. And provinces with the earliest mask mandates have, if anything, worse outcomes than states which, for longer, took a more relaxed attitude to masks. We note that New Zealand’s excellent record on Covid19 is due to stay-at-home emergency orders, not to the mandatory wearing of masks. (And Taiwan’s excellent record is mainly due to border management, testing and contact tracing.)
Canada has been trying to manage Covid19 on the cheap. New Zealand should not be allowed to do the same, in 2021.