Fresh Takes

Coronavirus, Italy, and us

After having spread death in China, COVID-19 is now hitting Europe with full force. In Italy, medical personnel are faced with heart-wrenching choices: With not enough staff to treat all patients, choices must be made to save certain lives rather than others.

In Italy as in Canada, the government plays a predominant role in the administration of health facilities. In all public systems, there is a constant: When demand increases, the health care system responds by rationing services, since the resources at its disposal are limited.

Without giving in to alarmism, we cannot afford to put our heads in the sand. The Canadian health care system does not seem fundamentally better-equipped than Italy to face the crisis. As Guy Millière observed in a piece published by the Gatestone Institute, Italy has 2.62 hospital beds per 1,000 population. According to the OECD’s most recent data, Canada has just 2.5.

Although not far away, Germany seems to be doing much better. With a health system accessible to all but in which care is provided by entrepreneurs, Germany has over 6 beds per 1,000 population. A quick comparison of statistics shows how the German system was better able to adapt: While 9,877 people are infected in Germany, the number of deaths so far is 26. These deaths are tragic, but they are happening at a far slower pace than in Italy, where there have been nearly 3,000 deaths for 35,713 people infected. The difference is staggering.

Given the shortcomings of our system, it is important for Canadians to redouble their prudence. The health of our health care system, and consequently our own health, may well depend on it.

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