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SCOTT TAYLOR: Let's start planning for economic recovery from COVID-19 crisis

Signs on the front doors of Giant Tiger in Sydney advise costumers the fitting rooms and washrooms are closed, as well as there will be limited numbers of customers allowed inside due to COVID-19 precaution measures to stop the spread of the highly contagious virus. Some cashiers are grocery and retail outlets still open because they provide essential service have been worried about the number of people returning from trips out of province, who aren't following public health's recommendation to self-isolate for 14 days.
Signs on the front doors of a store in Sydney advise customers of new restrictions. - Nikki Sullivan

Whenever there is a crisis involving death and destruction one of the first reactions of the media is to describe it as being akin to “a war zone.” A tornado rips through an urban centre and we are told that the wreckage looks like a war zone. A train derails and bursts into flames and we are told that the blazing debris is like a war zone.

Now as the global COVID-19 pandemic engulfs the planet we are once again being told that this is a war. True, the casualty count continues to mount and our health-care services are overextended in the battle to contain the spread of the virus. However the analogy that this is a war against COVID-19 may set us on a false course for dealing with the impact of the massive economic crisis that is sure to follow this initial health crisis.

Wars by their very nature stimulate economic activity. As armies are mobilized, factories ramp up production in order to equip them with weapons and munitions. Strict controls such as rationing of vital supplies like fuel and food are implemented, and governments impose wage and price controls to prevent rabid inflation.

With the COVID-19 crisis we have the exact opposite course of action, in that we have strictly enforced idleness for all but essential workers. Across the entire globe we have an unprecedented shutdown of the world’s economy.

The Canadian government has already announced a stream of financial assistance packages to drip feed businesses and workers for the duration of the shutdown in the hope that they will help jump-start the economy when normal life resumes. What was originally announced to be a $1 billion crisis fund from the federal government was soon increased to $27 billion and within days that number increased to a staggering $200 billion and counting.

As for the length of the work stoppage, that was to have been a 14-day shutdown of schools and non-essential workplaces. Now we have the official cancellation of major events like parades and conferences right through to the end of June.

Even with the current government financial aid to suspended businesses, it is not clear how many small enterprises will survive to be able to reopen their doors once this storm abates.

Another hazard in describing the current crisis as a war is that people then have a heightened expectation that the Canadian Armed Forces somehow have a role to play in this crisis. A recent poll conducted by the Conference of Defence Association Institute and IPSOS determined that nine out of ten Canadians expect the CAF to be involved in somehow defending Canada from the COVID-19 pandemic.

While there may eventually be some logistics support and security enforcement tasks performed by the CAF, this is not a war: It is a health crisis. Doctors, nurses, paramedics, cleaners, grocery store clerks, gas station attendants and truck drivers are the frontline soldiers in the battle against COVID-19, not our combat troops.

The present prediction is that even with the strict rules in place for self- isolation and physical distancing, some 30-70 per cent of Canadians will contract the COVID-19 virus, and of that number a small percentage will die from the disease. Those numbers could translate into tragic proportions in even a best case scenario.

However one thing is for sure and that is that when the second shoe drops – the economic crunch this crisis has caused – every single Canadian will feel the impact on some level.

We need to be planning now for how best to restart the economy even as we struggle to flatten the curve and curb the spread of this deadly contagion.

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1 being least likely, and 10 being most likely

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