Opinion-Policy Nexus

Who is, or was, Joe Biden?

The question is not entirely rhetorical. Just a month ago, Biden – Barack Obama’s vice-president – was the talk of every town. On March 3, he won a majority of Super Tuesday delegates and, building on momentum generated in South Carolina three days earlier, was poised to claim the Democratic nomination and challenge Donald Trump for the White House.

Today, Biden has all but disappeared from the news. He’s reduced to firing off tweets, presumably from his home. All political rallies are cancelled. The Democrats have pushed their convention off from July to (best case) August. Election experts are talking about ways to replace, or supplement, in-person polling in November with mail-in ballots or voting by telephone and/or online.

Today, the news is all pandemic all day. Like Biden, Peter MacKay and the Conservative leadership race (now postponed) have vanished from the public radar. So, to the greater regret of some of us who are following orders to stay at home, have the Blue Jays, Raptors and Maple Leafs. We don’t even have darts or curling, those most boring of televised sports, to relieve our self-isolation.

We are reduced to watching Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s daily briefing. On good days, he is informative and useful. On not-so-good days, he is evasive as he, along with leaders everywhere, struggles to keep up with “The Beast” – as the coronavirus is sometimes called. Statistics on infections, hospitalizations, deaths and recoveries are slow to come in and are assembled somewhat haphazardly. Models and projections based on these stats may be little better than wild guesses.

We can always tune in to Trump’s briefings from the White House. We see him flanked by experts whose body language suggests they devoutly wish to sink into the Rose Garden, never to been seen again, as the president misstates facts, cites statistics that do not exist, reassures Americans that life will return to normal far sooner than the experts believe possible, or frightens folks by declaring his erratic self to be their wartime president.

The stock market, being blind, takes Trump seriously. Its indexes rise and fall with his pronouncements. So do the opinion polls. His political popularity fluctuates with every briefing. When he sounds warlike, his “favourable” numbers climb almost as high as his “unfavourable” numbers. When he has to address the latest increase in COVID-19 numbers, his popularity droops.

The pandemic statistics may be inexact, but we need to know what the scientists know, however scary. Ontario released its projections on Friday. As Friday morning, the province had reported 98 COVID deaths. In the best-case scenario, if everyone follows all the rules, the death toll would rise to 200 by the end of April.

That sounds almost reassuring, until other projections are considered. If the pandemic runs its course, it will last 18 to 24 months and, absent strenuous measures to curtail it, COVID-19 would claim 100,000 lives in Ontario. However, if everyone “bears down hard” with closures and physical (or social) distancing, the provincial toll would fall in the range of 3,000 to 15,000 lives.

To put that necessarily imprecise projection in perspective, influenza kills about 1,350 people in Ontario in a normal flu year. In a bad year, it may take 1,500 lives.

Later on Friday, Premier Doug Ford announced new closures to combat the virus, and he backed them by citing a particularly grim short-term projection: by the end of April, the total number who have been infected in Ontario could reach 80,000 with 1,600 dead.

None of these projections, statistical models or guesstimates will bring comfort to the public. By now, most of us know someone who has contracted COVID-19, has its symptoms, is quarantined or has died – or is stranded, living in dread in a nursing home or residence for seniors. We don’t have enough emotional energy left to worry about Joe Biden or Peter MacKay – or even the Blue Jays.

We are in the fight of our lives, and we know it.


Monday, April 6, 2020 - 08:45