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SteynOnline celebrates its twentieth birthday later this month, and we're marking the occasion by announcing our first post-Covid Mark Steyn Cruise. No tests, no vax passports, that's all yours to choose or not; but just a week of fun on the high seas with Bo Snerdley, Michele Bachmann, Alexandra Marshall and other Steyn favorites. More information here.
Today is Friday, which means I'll be conducting another edition of our Clubland Q&A live around the planet. The action begins at 3pm North American Eastern time/7pm Greenwich Mean Time. We'll try to pin down the rest of the time zones below, but do, as they say, check local listings.
On this edition I'm happy to take questions on pretty much anything - even the looming US midterms, if you absolutely insist.
We're also celebrating this anniversary by strolling back through the last two decades of the SteynOnline archives. You can read our 2002 selection here. This 2003 column swam back into my mind at the start of our recent woes in early 2020 - mainly because, as before, Communist China was lying to the world:
The only new wrinkle (as we subsequently discovered) was that, this time round, US public-health officials were also lying to the world about their "gain-of-function" reason off-shored to Wuhan. As an additional bonus, the Canadian practice of spreading the contagion (and the death count) through the supposed "health" system was eagerly taken up by New York State, Pennsylvania, the NHS and others.
And here we are three years later. Here's what I had to say in The National Post on April 24th 2003:
One of the most tediously over-venerated bits of British political wisdom is Prime Minister Harold MacMillan's amused Edwardian response as to what he feared most in the months ahead: "Events, dear boy, events."
But even events come, so to speak, politically predetermined. If, for example, you have powerful public sector unions, you will be at the mercy of potentially crippling strikes. The quasi-Eastern European Britain of the 1970s was brought to a halt by a miners' strike in a way that would have been impossible in the United States.
So it is with SARS. The appearance of the virus itself was a surprise but everything since has been, to some extent, predictable. Because totalitarian regimes lie, China denied there was any problem for three months, and thereafter downplayed the extent of it. Because UN agencies are unduly deferential to dictatorships, the World Health Organization accepted Beijing's lies. This enabled SARS to wiggle free of China's borders before anyone knew about it. I mentioned all this three weeks ago, but only in the last couple of days has the People's Republic decided to come clean -- or, at any rate, marginally less unclean -- about what's going on.
As for our diseased Dominion, like the Chinese our leaders behaved true to form. When something bad happens in Canada, the priority is to demonstrate how nice we are. After September 11th, the Prime Minister visited a mosque. After SARS hit, the Prime Minister visited a Chinese restaurant. Insofar as one can tell, Chinese Canadians seem to be avoiding Chinese restaurants at a somewhat higher rate than caucasians. But, while it may have been blindsided by the actual outbreak of disease, the Canadian system is superb at dealing with entirely mythical outbreaks of racism. I think we can take it as read that if a truck of goulash exploded on the 401 killing 120, the Prime Minister would be Hungarian folk dancing within 48 hours. Personally, I'd have been more impressed if he and Aline had had a candlelit dinner for two over a gurney in the emergency room of a Toronto hospital. That's the issue -- not Canadian restaurants, but Canadian health care.
But the piped CanCon mood music has wafted over Jean and Aline's table and drowned out the more awkward questions. Toronto is the only SARS "hot zone" outside Asia. Of nearly 200 nations on the face of this Earth, Canada is one of only eight where SARS has killed, and currently ranks third, after China and Singapore, in the number of SARS deaths. Indeed, Canada had the highest SARS fatality rate in the world until one of two infected Filipinos died a few days ago -- and according to its government she picked it up from the mother of her Toronto roommate.
But why get hung up on details? "Over the past six weeks, health care workers across Toronto have done an amazing job," wrote Joseph Mapa, president of Mount Sinai Hospital, on our letters page yesterday. "We need to applaud these men and women for their dedication and commitment."
No, we don't. We can indulge in lame-o maple boosterism if we ever lick this thing. Until then, we need to ask: Why Toronto? London, Sydney, San Francisco and other Western cities have large, mobile Asian populations. But they don't have SARS. The excuse being made for China is that they have vast rural provinces with limited access to health care. So what's Toronto's?
Here's the timeline:
February 11th: The WHO issued its first SARS health alert, which was picked up by the American ProMed network, which distributed it to Toronto health authorities. The original alert has been described as "obviously significant" by those who saw it.
February 28th: Kwan Sui-Chu, having recently returned from Hong Kong, goes to her doctor in Scarborough complaining of fever, coughing, muscle tenderness, all the symptoms of the by now several ProMed alerts. As is traditional in Canada, the patient is prescribed an antibiotic and sent home.
March 5th: Having apparently never returned for further medical treatment and slipped into a coma at home, Kwan Sui-Chu is found dead in her bed. The coroner, Dr. Mark Shaffer, lists cause of death as "heart attack." Later that day, Kwan's son, Tse Chi Kwai, visits the doctor, complaining of fever, coughing, etc. He too is prescribed an antibiotic and sent home. Later still, the son takes his wife to the doctor. Likewise.
March 7th: Tse Chi Kwai goes to Scarborough Grace, and is left on a gurney in Emergency for 12 hours exposed to hundreds of people.
March 9th: Scarborough Grace discovers Tse's mother has recently died after returning from Hong Kong. But Dr. Sandy Finkelstein concludes, if Tse is infectious, it's TB.
March 13th: Tse dies, and Scarborough Grace calls Dr. Allison McGeer, Mount Sinai's infectious disease specialist, who finally makes the SARS connection.
March 16th: Joe Pollack, who lay next to Tse on that Scarborough Grace ER gurney for hour after hour, returns to the hospital with SARS. He's isolated, but not his wife. Later that day, while at the hospital, Mrs. Pollack comes in contact with another patient who's a member of a Catholic Charismatic group.
March 28th: At a meeting of the Charismatic group, the ailing Scarborough patient's unknowingly infected son exposed 500 others to SARS ...
Let's leave it there. If this is what the President of Mount Sinai calls an "amazing job," then we might as well head for the hills screaming "We're all gonna die!" Toronto health authorities have done an amazing job that's amazing only in its comprehensive lousiness. At every link in the chain, anything that could go wrong did go wrong.
In rural China, SARS got its start through the population's close contact with farm animals. In Hong Kong, it was spread by casual contact in the lobby, elevators and other public areas of the Metropole Hotel. Only in Canada does the virus owe its grip on the population to the active co-operation of the medical profession. In Toronto, the system that's supposed to protect us from infection instead infected us. They breached the most basic medical principle: first do no harm. Even after they knew it was SARS, Scarborough Grace kept making things worse.
Dr. Mapa's pathetic attempts at covering his profession's ass are understandable. But most people who've had experience of Canadian health care will recognize the SARS chain as an extreme version of what usually happens. The other day, a guy I know went to a Quebec emergency room, waited for six hours, was told he had a migraine, and sent home. It turned out to be a life-threatening parasite in the brain. I'm sure you've got friends and family with similar stories. A chronically harassed, understaffed, underequipped system reaches reflexively for routine diagnoses, prescriptions. Did Kwan Sui-Chu's doctor, an Asian Canadian herself with many Asian patients, get the Toronto Public Health alert? Is it normal for coroners to mark "heart attack" as cause of death for elderly patients even when they've been prescribed antibiotics for a new condition in the last week? Why, after Scarborough admitted Mr. Pollack, whom they knew to have been infected during his previous stay with them, did they allow Mrs. Pollack to circulate among other patients? Why did Scarborough compound its own carelessness by infecting York Central?
Most of what went wrong could have been discovered by a few social pleasantries: How's the family? Been travelling recently? The so-called "bedside manner" isn't just to cheer you up, it's meant to provide the doctor with information that will assist his diagnosis. In Canadian health care, coiled tight as a spring, there's no room for chit-chat: give her the antibiotics, put it down as a heart attack, stick him on a gurney in the corridor for a couple of days. Maybe you could get service as bad as this in, oh, a Congolese hospital. But in most other Western health care systems the things Ontario failed to do would be taken for granted. There might be a lapse at some point in the chain but not a 100% systemic failure all the way down the line.
You'll notice that just like Red China, the Prime Minister and Toronto's medical staff I've reacted reflexively, blaming it in my right-wing way on the decrepitude of socialized health care, which almost by definition is reactive rather than anticipatory, and belatedly so at that. But my analysis, unlike Dr. Mapa's, fits the facts. But not to worry: as our leader is happy to assure us, our no-tier health care "express da Canadian value."
~from The National Post of Canada, April 24th 2003
As it happens, that was my very last column for the Post. Like all good farewell columns, it wasn't intended as a farewell column; it just turned out that way. The day after it appeared, the Asper family - who'd taken control of the paper from Conrad Black the previous year - fired the editor Ken Whyte, his deputy Martin Newland, and a phalanx of others, including the marketing hottie, to whom I was especially partial. I accept the right of new owners to sack editors and, as a general rule, think the newspaper world - especially the moribund US monodailies - would benefit from bloody mass sackings every so often. But the idea is to replace the dear departed with someone better. In the case of the Post, they gave the editorship to some oleaginous creep whose name escapes me (and who didn't last that long himself).
So I went away - to Iraq, as it happens - and early one evening, at a rest area on the main western highway somewhere between Rutba and Ramadi, I looked up at the stars and decided the Post had been a grand ride but it was over. I'll always be grateful to Conrad for launching it, and anyone who still buys a daily newspaper in Canada ought to thank him for raising the standards - in design, in writing, in investigative reporting - in that brief period when complacent old snoresheets like The Globe & Mail were suddenly forced to compete. The Internet proved a far more fatal virus to newspapers than SARS ever was even to Canadian hospital patients.
Feel free to ask me about the state of our media, and indeed its woeful response to the Covid later today. Whether or not you're a Club member you can listen to our Clubland Q&A live as it happens wherever you chance to be on this turbulent earth: membership is required only to ask a question. We love to hear from brand new members, so if you've joined this week, either for a full year or a see-how-it-goes experimental quarter, do shoot me a head-scratcher for today's show. But, if you're not interested in joining, no worries, as they say in Oz: We seek no unwilling members - and as always the show is free to listen to, so we hope you'll want to tune in.
As soon as we go live, members should log-in and submit their queries via our comment form below - and I'll answer them as-it-happens on the audio livestream that should magically appear above (or possibly below - I forget which). And, if you disagree with my response, then let rip in the comments, and I'll endeavour to address a couple of the objections as we go along.
Clubland Q&A is a special production for The Mark Steyn Club. We're not paywalling off SteynOnline or any of that nonsense - and in fact this site now offers more free content than ever before in our previous two decades. But Club membership does confer a few benefits, including not only participation in our Q&As but also access to Tales for Our Time, our Sunday Poems and much more.
So see you back here live this afternoon at 3pm North American Eastern Time. That's 4pm in the Canadian Maritimes, half-past-four in Newfoundland - and, beyond the Americas, 7pm in London and Dublin; 8pm in Paris and Berlin; 9pm in Kiev, but 10pm Moscow, now back in separate time zones; half-past-ten in Tehran, for all you Newfoundlanders who move to Iran for the half-hour time zone; eleven-forty-five in Kathmandu, for all you Iranians who move to Nepal to check out the quarter-hour time zone; and the early hours of Saturday morning for our far-eastern and Pacific listeners.