Madam Chair, thank you for those words of wisdom.
Let me start by saying that obviously the wrench that has been thrown into our financial predictions, both in terms of health care and for all ministries of the government, has been COVID-19.
The opposition has been very vocal in criticizing our government for delays: being slow to do things, to recognize asymptomatic transmission, to close the borders, to advocate the use of masks and rapid testing and, most recently, to distribute vaccines to the people who need them. I think these accusations are unfair.
No one in the world predicted this pandemic, and certainly no one in the world was prepared for this pandemic. As of late, we have all become armchair epidemiologists, and for all those armchair epidemiologists out there, let me fill them in a bit in terms of the history of infectious disease. We are on chapter 12 of a very long book on infectious disease. Certainly infectious disease in the past has a long history. Infectious disease in the past was exceedingly important.
For example, in 541, there was the plague of Justinian. At its height, that epidemic killed more than 5,000 people per day in Constantinople.
In the 1300s, the Black Death or the plague killed between 30% and 60% of the European population.
In 1812 it was typhus. When Napoleon retreated from Moscow, typhus killed more people than the Russian army did.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the white plague, tuberculosis, killed an estimated one-third of the English population.
Of course in 1918, Spanish influenza, which was a particularly virulent strain of influenza, affected an estimated 50% of the population at the time and resulted in 80 million to 100 million deaths, which was 3% to 5% of the world's population.
Of note, as with COVID, infectious disease disproportionately affects the poorest people in our society. Tuberculosis and typhoid at one time were epidemics in wealthy countries in the northern hemisphere, but now have become rare in those countries. However, they remain as problems in many developing countries.
Generally, as a result of the industrial revolution and increased prosperity in developing countries, infectious diseases have been a lot less of a concern in the northern hemisphere and northern countries; however, they remain endemic in many Third World countries.
As a result of the industrial revolution and the increased prosperity in northern, more affluent societies, we have developed the belief that pandemics will no longer affect us, which has certainly proved wrong.
Before SARS and before COVID, there was, I would point out, HIV/AIDS, which was a pandemic, albeit a very slow-moving one, that affected multiple countries around the world.
It was SARS that really woke up the world to the threat of infectious disease, both in terms of morbidity and mortality, but also in terms of their effects on the economy.
In 2005, in response to SARS, the World Health Organization approved and passed the international health regulations, or IHRs, that gave the WHO the authority to advise countries, including Canada, on what measures to take to limit the spread of infectious diseases among countries.
What has happened in recent years goes a long way in explaining why not just Canada, but the whole world reacted as it did to COVID, and why there was the slowness in reaction.
Let me start off by giving a brief history of recent infectious diseases in the world. H5N1 was in 1997 in Hong Kong. There was a concern it would become a pandemic, but did not. H7N7 was in the Netherlands, which was another influenza outbreak. Again, there was a concern it would become a pandemic and it did not. H9N2 was in Hong Kong and it mostly affected children. There was a concern it was going to become a pandemic and it did not. H7N9 was the same thing.
In 2009 to 2010, there was H1N1. There was an outbreak and it did go global, but WHO was heavily criticized for having overreacted and having been too quick to hit the panic button. In 2013, MERS was another coronavirus. There was a concern it would become a pandemic, but it did not. There were over 50 outbreaks of Ebola in Africa. Again, a highly infectious disease with a very high rate of mortality that really exceeds COVID-19. Again, a concern it would become a pandemic and never did.
This is really important to remember. There were numerous outbreaks of infectious disease where there was a genuine concern they would become pandemics. They never did. WHO was criticized for overreacting, being too fast to hit the panic button.
When COVID came along in December 2019, people were a little hesitant to react. That is for a reason. There were all these other outbreaks of diseases that never went anywhere. WHO was heavily criticized for overreacting in the past with something that did not turn out to be a major concern. That, in part, explains its reaction.
As it turns out, they were wrong. We were wrong, they were wrong and everyone was wrong. It certainly explains the mentality and the reason for both our Public Health Agency and for our Ministry of Health being hesitant to react. The vast majority of times, it turned out to be nothing.
As for the measures we have taken in reaction to the pandemic, it is important to consider the role of the international health regulations in the response, and also the prevailing attitude of people in public health who are in positions of authority with respect to coercive measures and their negative interpretations of the necessity of coercive measures with respect to controlling a disease.
The international health regulations are akin to a treaty, which the World Health Assembly adopted with the input of Canada and with the approval of Canada. In the international health regulations, it specifically requires countries to adopt measures that are least restrictive to international travel. This was largely in response to—