If you found yourself in the depths of despair during the shutdowns, you’re not alone. And it’s probably not entirely your fault, either, according to a recent study from the MacDonald-Laurier Institute (MLI). The COVID Misery Index, an interactive report, found that Canada fared poorly in its management of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in its public health response and in mitigating economic impact.
In a list of total national misery, in ascending order, The Great White North ranked 11 out of the 15 countries studied — just one spot above Italy, and two below the US.
“Relative to its peers, Canada gets a “C” in terms of its overall performance,” the Ottawa-based independent, nonpartisan think tank stated.
“While Canada was spared the worst ravages of the disease, our response to it has brought significant misery, largely attributable to quite strong restrictions in behaviour and a lagging vaccination program,” author Richard Audas wrote in the report.
“The economic misery has been severe, and the projections are that Canadian taxpayers will be paying this bill for some time to come.”
MLI’s COVID Misery Index measured a government’s performance through the pandemic and the extent to which the virus itself or responses to the pandemic have injured human wellbeing. The index compared 15 similar nations, where higher scores reflected more misery. It evaluated the magnitude of suffering related to the disease, government response, and economy.
Key metrics of evaluation include the number of infections, COVID-related deaths, lockdown stringency, vaccination rates, testing capacity, changes in GDP, unemployment, public debt, and more.
The think tank found that Norway had the best overall response due to its “efficient” management of the virus, which protected the nation’s health, economy, and overall wellbeing. Spain, by contrast, had the worst overall response to COVID, which resulted in grave economic repercussions, the report stated.
Sure enough, the Canadian government’s response to the pandemic has been linked to a spike in substance abuse and deaths related to alcohol and opioid use. The Public Health Agency of Canada reported 1,628 opioid-related fatalities that occurred between April and June 2020 — a 58% increase compared to January and March 2020, before the lockdowns.
The 1,628 deaths also represent the highest count since the agency began collecting data in 2016. At least five provinces reached record-highs in opioid-related deaths in the April-June period, with 86% of all deaths occurring in British Columbia, Alberta, or Ontario.
The strong restrictions in behaviour Audas cited had mental health consequences as well.
The Everything is Not Okay campaign found that an alarming majority — 74% — of Ontarians “are experiencing increased mental health and addiction challenges” since the start of COVID-19, with 30% at high risk and 19% at moderate risk.
The group had also found that risks of suicide are on the rise: 2.5% of the population admitted to having suicidal thoughts pre-pandemic, compared to 6.4% in May 2020 and 10% in October 2020.
According to Statistics Canada, those reporting poor mental health are “up to 4 times more like to report increased substance use.” Since the start of the lockdowns, 16.2% of Canadians reported increased alcohol consumption, 6.1% reported increased cannabis use, and 4.8% reported increased tobacco use.
Where Canada did perform satisfactorily, according to the index, is the limiting of disease misery, where we placed sixth out of 15, receiving a “B” for curbing the spread of cases and deaths.
“But in terms of the misery wrought by our response to the pandemic, we are ranked 14th out of 15 (a “D” letter-grade),” according to the MLI.
Placed 13th in economic performance, Canada’s inept approach to the virus was more expensive than in other countries and the biggest agent of misery, the MLI said.
“Our poor economic result was another “D” and is the single greatest contributor to overall misery in Canada.”
Statistics Canada found that 25,000 businesses have been shuttered since the start of the pandemic, resulting in unemployment and bankruptcies.
The index is the first and only of its kind, quantifying and analyzing the short- and long-term consequences of the shutdowns to human welfare.
“We hope that our index will allow Canadian and global policy-makers to appreciate the consequences of their policy decisions and learn from peer countries with shared experiences,” Audas said on behalf of MLI.
Audas had also helped develop an award-winning Report Card on the Criminal Justice System, published in March 2018.
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