Give Premier Moe credit – he got the ball rolling. On April 23, he became the first premier to announce a plan – with dates – to re-open a province. Phase 2 of the Re-Open Saskatchewan plan starts May 19, with dates for phases 3, 4, and 5 still pending. Let them come as soon as possible. Covid-19 is another Y2K: a problem whose actual threat was dwarfed by the panic it inspired.
Y2K was its own virus, a “millennial bug” that was would make computers malfunction and bring on the apocalypse. Robert Samanson both documented and triggered these fears with a Vanity Fair article in January of 1999. In the introduction, he asked, “Will the millennium arrive in darkness and chaos as billions of lines of computer code containing two-digit year dates shut down hospitals, banks, police and fire departments, airlines, utilities, the Pentagon, and the White House? The nightmare scenarios are only too possible.”
The warnings look more ridiculous in hindsight. Nuclear ballistic missiles might fire by themselves at the very moment that bank vaults, sewer valves, and prison gates also open. Meanwhile, elevators, firetruck ladders, and control switches for trains would not work. Next stop: pandemonium.
“The whole financial system of the United States will come to a halt. It not only could happen, it will happen, if we don’t fix it right,” said the I.R.S. commissioner, Charles Rossotti, of the looming Y2K.
Not to be outdone, US Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre said, “This is going to have implications in the world and in American society we can’t even begin to comprehend.”
The problem is when “experts” warn of unimaginable consequences, people fill in the blanks with their own imagination. The media stokes the fears with endless coverage, the perfect standby topic on slow news days.
These days, the media has nothing to talk about but Covid because the lockdown has killed most other things that would normally take place.
It’s been hard to find measured voice of reason, calm, or reassurance during the pandemic. At least under Y2K, experts who thought it wasn’t a big deal got some airtime and were less subject to emotional criticism.
Covid is entirely different. Anyone that doesn’t agree with the China-friendly World Health Organization is outright censored by Facebook and YouTube.
Sweden protected the vulnerable and let life go on for everyone else. Personal experience has told me that expressing appreciation for this approach inspires shock, anger, and accusations of poor character.
As an historic event, the “millenium bug” turned out to be 1 part reality and 1999 parts panic. At worst, a few bus ticket printers in Australia didn’t work for a day. And yes, the date appeared wrong in a few places in the world. It was a one-day inconvenience, not an apocalypse.
Did preparation prevent the problem? Probably not. The world only spent $300 billion of the USD $2.6 trillion supposedly required to head off the Y2K disaster—which suggests 90 per cent of the predicted mayhem should have happened anyway. Yet, South Korea, which made little preparation for Y2K, was no worse off than the United States, which spent $134 billion.
Covid has also proven to be an exaggerated threat, inflamed by pandemic projections that proved patently false. As of May 18, Saskatchewan has 142 active cases, 444 recoveries, and just 6 deaths. These are small numbers for a population of nearly 1.2 million.
Prevention measures are only part of why these numbers are low. Consider that Sweden’s Covid-19 death count is roughly ten times that of neighbouring Norway, which had strict lockdown measures. Had Saskatchewan taken the Swedish approach, 60 might have died instead of 6. Still Sweden’s Covid-related death rate is comparable to most European countries in total lockdown.
If Saskatchewan had an extended lockdown for every issue that could potentially save 54 lives, the lockdown would never end. Children would never be in school, restaurants would never open, and many small businesses could never offer services. Besides, this lockdown might lead to 54 deaths in itself. Suicides due to financial loss or deaths due to reduced health care services under Covid-19 are but two ways this could happen.
On May 19, Saskatchewanians will for the first time in two months, buy clothes, shoes, flowers, sporting goods, vaping supplies, boats, books, jewelry, toys, music, electronics, pawned goods, hair cuts, massages, and get acupuncture.
Sometime later, Saskatchewanians will be able to go to bars and restaurants, gyms, sporting events, and churches. That time should be as soon as possible both in this province and most other places. Let’s face it: this pandemic was one-part reality and nine parts fear. We don’t need a new normal, but a renewed one – and it can’t come soon enough.
Lee Harding is the Saskatchewan Affairs Columnist for the Western Standard. He is also a Research Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and is the former Saskatchewan Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.