Canada’s Flawed COVID Policies
As we are nearing one year since the emergence of the novel coronavirus, and more than 680,000 confirmed cases in Canada, there is much anticipation in the possibility of a vaccine that can allow the social lives of many to return to normal.
In fact, the production and deployment of these vaccines has been the lynchpin to the COVID-19 response of the Capitalist nations. So now that the vaccines are here, with Canada having secured millions of doses of both the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines, and having purchasing agreements for millions more, how much closer are these governments to defeating COVID-19?
How did we get here?
After neglecting the threat of novel respiratory viruses emerging from “wet markets” in China for over 10 years, Western nations continued to mismanage the threat of the virus once its destructive nature became apparent.
For example, Canada’s refusal to impose travel restrictions on China due to economic and trade related interests even though it occurred during one of the busiest travel seasons.
Weak planning for mass testing sites and contract tracing until it ravaged the economies of the Capitalist nations and led to uncontrollable death tolls in places such as southern Europe.
Deceiving the masses by downplaying the efficacy of masks to make up for their own negligence in producing them and having enough in stock as part of the disaster management plan.
Creating arbitrary and inconsistent rules to enforce social distancing and limits on the number of people that can gather in one place at a time.
The Capitalist nations failed miserably at managing this crisis and minimizing the damage caused by the pandemic at each point in its evolutions. With a series of failures and incompetent leadership, they paraded their hope to solve this in the form of an end-all, be-all vaccine.
From the perspective of the Capitalist elites, the vaccine’s real value lies in the hundreds of millions of dollars of wealth pharmaceutical companies are set to make, instead of the sanctity of human life.
Who foots the bills for saving lives?
With multiple COVID-19 vaccines being placed out there on the market and even more in development, the Capitalist nations are quick to credit their “free-market” and “enterprising” system with the production of high-quality medical research and pharmaceuticals. The common person is fooled into believing that they should be grateful to the pharmaceutical giants for their generosity and ingenuity in creating these vaccines.
The reality is the cost of medical research, including vaccine research, is very often borne by the public, taxpayer funded institutions. The COVID-19 vaccine is an mRNA vaccine. The conceptual model and basic research that has gone into the messenger RNA vaccine has all been undertaken by the public sector. On top of this, the companies that engaged in the human trials of these vaccines had already secured hundreds of millions of dollars of purchase contracts from governments all over the world, which allowed them to engage in the risky business of Phase 3 trials.
Therefore, why must the common person bear the burden of a public health crisis by being obliged to spend their hard-earned tax money and fund the production of these vaccines. It is the ingenuity of committed scientists across different countries on the public payroll who came up with the basic research that would make such a vaccine possible. The production of the vaccine is not the achievement of a select few giants of industry and technology but should be seen as the achievement of an entire society and therefore each member of society has a right to enjoy the benefits.
The Vaccine Rollout
While the Federal government has had more than half a year to prepare the rollout of these vaccines, no national plan was crafted to coordinate its rollout in a country as geographically and demographically diverse as Canada.
The procurement of the vaccines is a federal matter, but each province has been left to its own devices to manage the vaccine rollout. This has already led to different standards across provinces. Instead of unifying the best experts to craft a national strategy and deploying the military for logistical support, the Federal government has let the vaccine rollout, the best weapon against COVID-19, in the hands of ineffectual and ill-trained provincial bureaucrats.
This means despite the Federal government having deployed more than half a million doses of vaccines to the provinces, these latter have not even succeeded in vaccinating all the long-term care home residents and staff at this point. Some provinces are giving only one dose of the vaccine for now, without any reserves to make it effective, and Ontario is even trying to get Health Canada to skirt its guidelines and allow the administering of the Moderna vaccine in a single dose.
The distribution of this vaccine in rural communities, which have a high concentration of older residents, is also not really accounted for. The cold storage requirements are harder to meet in these communities. And this is only within Canada.
The rollout in New York State has been encumbered by so many bureaucratic rules, with the governor even having initially suggested that only hospitals could administer the vaccine, as opposed to public health units. He later relented under extreme pressure. In the UK, the government has decided to delay the 2 doses of the Moderna vaccine by 3 months – a practice not supported by the medical community.
And in the developing world, and much of the Muslim world, the cold storage requirements of any of the developed vaccines cannot be met due to lack of an effective public health system. In the midst of the “Second Wave”, which the governments had ample time to prepare for, there is still no means of mass testing, contact tracing, and even vaccinating against this plague.
Why is it easier to get a smartphone than medication? Compared to the US, Canada and some European countries cover healthcare costs. In contrast, a 2018 study by the Harvard School of Medicine, 45,000 Americans die each year because of lack of affordable health services. But is free healthcare enough?
RasulAllah (saw) said:
“There is no right for the son of Adam other than these things: a house in which he lives, a garment to cover his nakedness, a piece of bread, and water.”[Tirmidhi].
He (saw) also said:
“The Imam (ruler) is a guardian, and he is responsible for his subjects.” [Al-Bukhari]
Consequently, society must be built around a vision: taking care of people as human beings.
For example, during the Ar-Ramada famine Amr ibn al-Aas, the governor of Egypt, suggested to Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra)
“If you want the price of food in Medina to be on the level of that in Egypt, I shall excavate a waterway and build bridges across it.”
What this illustrates is that the driver of this massive project was not to increase shareholder value. Instead, what drove the Khilafah Rashidah to fix the waterway was to make basic needs affordable.
Capitalism can put a smartphone in the hands of everyone, but it does not have an effective way to roll out vaccines. Why? Because Capitalism as a system does not care for the wellbeing of people. It only cares about economic growth. In contrast, Islam works to ensure that the basic needs, including healthcare, are met before enabling luxurious pursuits.
A Diseased System
Muslims should not downplay the genuine efforts and sacrifices of essential workers, emergency services, educators, researchers, and anyone who disciplines their behaviour with a desire to look out for others.
At the same time, we must realize that the awfully inadequate response to this plague as a symptom of a deeper disease; a system that is built around the needs and conveniences of elite men, as opposed to a system that caters to the needs of the people as human beings.
And even this deep disease points to the core problem – the implementation of man-made laws. Capitalism is a system that allows those with the most power, wealth and influence to dominate policy decisions, bureaucracies and public discourse around any issue.
This means vital issues like public health, occupational safety, and crisis management do not get the public investment they require. The elite already have access to the best of private security and workplace conditions. They do not require the public investment in these issues.
The cure to this tragic situation is a system that is not designed by powerful men, whose interests and biases would shape it according to their whims.
It is a system that is built on the Guidance and Mercy of the Most Just Creator, who created human life and its material conditions, and has prescribed a solution to its problems.
As Muslims, our response to COVID-19 must include taking part in the global effort to re-establish Islam as a complete system of life. This is the only way to hold the elite accountable for their negligence, and the only way towards healing.
“There is a disease in their hearts, to which God has added more: agonizing torment awaits them for their persistent lying. When it is said to them, ‘Do not cause corruption in the land,’ they say, ‘We are only putting things right,’ but really, they are causing corruption, though they do not realize it. [TMQ 2:10-12]