Sunday, April 25, 2021

 Guest Column: Of planes, pandemics and politics in Peterborough ... who to trust?

If, like me, you're glad that airline executives don't make safety decisions about flights, then why aren't we mad as hell that politicians are making public safety decisions about a virus?

Full disclosure: I have no training as an aircraft mechanic or air-traffic controller; I also have no training as a doctor or epidemiologist. I have never had life-and-death responsibilities in any job; my resume is a very dull read. But these four professions carry enormous responsibilities; peoples’ lives depend on how these jobs are done.

Back in the ’90s and early 2000s, I flew between three and six times a year — not much among frequent flyers. I have often been stranded in airports due to technical difficulties. While stuck in airport lounges, I have listened to my co-travellers whine about flights delays.

I realized that I had to trust these aviation experts with my life. After all, I was about to take a seat in a long aluminum tube then be flown to an altitude of 33,000 feet for several hours, propelled through the thin air by constant explosions of highly flammable jet fuel. I told myself, “Hmmm, another flight delay? Need to make sure the plane is in good shape? Fine. Please take your time!”

How were these flight-delay decisions made? As a passenger, I believed that these decisions were made by senior flight mechanics and air-traffic controllers. I knew that the owner of my consulting firm, the CEO of their corporate client, the airline’s executives or the owner of the hotel at which I would be staying would not have any say in when or if my plane would take off.

Those flight delays had business implications, but they were not business decisions. They were safety decisions. I had to trust those aviation professionals.

Now let’s look at another journey — getting all of us safely through this pandemic. Public health restrictions regarding COVID-19 are like flight delays. Both are highly inconvenient. Both have huge safety implications. But a flight delay only affects a couple of dozen people. A public health restriction can affect millions. Both decisions have financial implications. The flight delay might mean a loss of revenue for a hotel; these losses are pocket change.

In comparison, the public health decisions being made now are having immense economic implications. Jobs are being lost. Businesses are failing. We can dispute the reasons behind either a flight delay or a pandemic lockdown, but our opinions do not matter. Nor should they. Air travellers have to trust aviation professionals to make the right decision. Only those with extensive aviation expertise should make flight-delay decisions.

The owners of consulting firms, corporate executives and hotel managers should not have any input into whether or not a flight is safe for takeoff. They know how to run businesses; they don’t know how to fly airplanes.

As a citizen stuck in this pandemic, I have to trust medical and public health professionals to make the right decisions. I would like to think the right people are making the current pandemic health decisions. But who are these right people? Only those with extensive medical and public health expertise should be deciding which pandemic strategies are best.

So why is Ontario’s premier, in obeisance to his corporate donors, making public health decisions during this pandemic? Does he have the medical and epidemiological expertise to make these decisions? Huge profits and losses hang in the balance.

We know the virus is spreading in poorly ventilated schools and crowded workplaces such as factories, distribution depots, and major construction projects. It is spreading among low-wage workers who do cannot stay home when they are sick because they need to come to work in order to get paid. Does our premier believe that sick, dying and dead workers will still show up for their shifts? Does he know that sick, dying and dead customers will not shop?

Since January, doctors in Ontario’s busiest hospitals have been posting warnings on social media about the third wave. A quick tour of Twitter and YouTube will bring up dozens of these posts. Doctors who sit on the Ontario government’s Science Advisory Table have posted their warnings. These posts are not partisan attacks; they are the well-reasoned arguments of qualified professionals, often supported by recently-complied statistics.

Why has this wealth of expert medical advice been ignored? We know the answer. Now we are seeing the catastrophic consequences. All actions must be taken to halt the spread of this virus, including factory and depot closures.

Doug Ford is fond of using the expression, “nothing is off the table.” If so, then why did expert medical advice take so long to come before business interests?

Bill Templeman is a writer, career coach, podcaster and consultant based in Peterborough.

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