There are several points from which one can compare health jurisdictions and their fight against COVID-19. One can compare rates of infection, number of deaths, deaths per capita, survival rates and so forth. No point of comparison is perfect and each presents limitations. The size of a country, the concentration of its population, its geography and its policies can all be influences or justifications for the difference.
One way to compare jurisdictions is to ask about the survival chances of those confirmed to have been infected by COVID. Among those infected, how many die and how many survive in a jurisdiction might tell us something about the population’s health or how a health system reacts and copes with crises.
Some will complain that it’s unfair to evaluate in such a way health systems in populations that are older or poorer. And the criticism would be justified. Comparing Canada to Bolivia, for instance, would be unfair.
But comparing Canada with Sweden would be less unfair. And how do Canadian provinces compare to one another?
In Canada, we have mechanisms designed to equalize programs so Canadians receive accessible and comparable levels of service. This is the case with health care.
All things being equalized, care for COVID-19 patients in Manitoba should not differ significantly from care in Saskatchewan or Nova Scotia. Regardless of how much each province spends, Canadian provinces have a similar capacity for their health systems – or so we’re told.
On a per-capita basis, more COVID-19 patients have died in Sweden than in Canada. The latest statistics show Sweden’s 1,473 deaths per million almost doubled Canada’s 791. Sweden’s case numbers per million (118,519) are more than two times larger than Canada’s (47,171), even though Sweden’s population is less than one-third that of Canada’s. Many Canadians have pointed at these ratios, including Alberta’s government, to justify lockdowns by contrast to Sweden’s “softer touch” in dealing with COVID-19.
However, as a percentage of their respective cases, more have died in Canada than in Sweden. Among people who have contracted COVID-19, the Swedish medical system has saved 34 per cent more patients. Canadians who contracted COVID-19 have died at a greater ratio than Swedes. This begs the question of why, with three times the comparative number of cases, the smaller country’s health system has coped and has saved more of their sick than Canada has: 1.3 per cent of infected Swedes have died versus 1.73 per cent of Canadians.
And what of our provinces?
Here are percentages of deaths among the confirmed COVID-19 cases: 1.06 in British Columbia; 0.91 in Alberta; 1.03 in Saskatchewan; 2.02 in Manitoba; 1.66 in Ontario; 2.8 in Quebec; 1.34 in New Brunswick; 1.47 in Nova Scotia; zero in Prince Edward Island; and 0.44 in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Albertans with COVID-19 have had a better chance than infected people in any other province except for P.E.I. and Newfoundland. Manitobans would do well to ask how their COVID-19 stricken have died at twice the rate of those in Saskatchewan. Urban Ontario’s lockdowns have been quite brutal, but the ratio of death per cases in the province is roughly on the Canadian average.
Quebec has the worst record of deaths per infected cases in the country, more comparable to Italy, which has the worst record among Western European states. It is even worse than Russia’s. Quebecers must ask themselves why.
In Western Europe, like in Canada, the jurisdictions with the most repressive lockdowns have typically had the higher death rates per case. The harder these jurisdictions have professed to protect their health system, the less well they’ve done at protecting people who are actually infected.
It seems more than ironic. It looks like a correlation.
Marco Navarro-Genie is president of the Haultain Research Institute and research fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy. He is co-author, with Barry Cooper, of COVID-19: The Politics of a Pandemic Moral Panic (2020).
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