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August 6, 2020 | The Toll

A best-selling Canadian author of 14 books on economic trends, real estate, the financial crisis, personal finance strategies, taxation and politics. Nationally-known speaker and lecturer on macroeconomics, the housing market and investment techniques. He is a licensed Investment Advisor with a fee-based, no-commission Toronto-based practice serving clients across Canada.

This blog stepped off the curb yesterday into a steamy little pile of poo. That’s tough on the spats. Worse, it creates havoc in the steerage section. Karens everywhere.

The crime was simple, saying people wear masks because they have fear. Fear of Covid. Fear of getting it, spreading it, facilitating it, enabling it. This may be glossed with language like, ‘it’s respect for others’, but anxiety lurks within.

Yes, we’re scared. A new KPMG poll shows just how much. Over 50% of Canadians say they’re too terrified to go back to work and 77% fear their co-workers will infect them if they do return. Six in ten will refuse to venture to the workplace if they deem it unsafe and almost 80% of Ontarians say they don’t want to use public transit to commute. This is a huge problem for employers. It’s a reason all the major banks, for example, have given up – head office workers are off until sometime in 2021. The soaring towers stand mostly empty. The condos around them are eroding in value.

Fear is moving politics. The Canada-US border will stay closed for a long time, despite the economic implications, since 82% of people here are afraid of Americans. Even within Canada there is public support to keep some provincial borders shut. And big debates are taking place about the kids going back to school.

Whether this level of public anxiety is justified by the severity of the virus and its impact on the health care system won’t be known until it’s gone and a rational analysis takes place. But the economic consequences are clear. Millions unemployed. Historic government deficits. Mortgage deferrals. Business failures. Also evident is the terror this has caused in society. It will be a long time before normal comes back, since we no longer trust each other. Masks seem a potent symbol of that mistrust.

By the way, I wear mine. It’s the law in public, indoor spaces. Being masked is being responsible and compliant. However every time I don it, there’s regret. We are growing more distant from each other. Fearing airborne droplets. Afraid of the people we used to call friends at work. Scared of the office. Wary of customers coming into the shop. It’s now a world of online retailing, online entertainment, Zooming, contactless purchases, social distancing and aloneness. Such a state cannot be permanent or the economic and financial security we’ve enjoyed to date will be gutted.

The stated goal when Covid hit was to flatten the curve, slow the spread and allow the health care system to deal with it. In Canada, that was achieved. The hospitals are okay. ICUs not packed. No ventilator crisis. The long-term care homes are far safer. We have been remarkably successful in avoiding infections by doing everything others are not. Much to be proud of.

The new goal appears to be virus eradication. No cases at all, since the current infection rate (less than one half of one per cent of Canadians) is deemed to be too much. All states of emergency remain in place. Governments continue to enforce behaviours. Legislatures are still suspended in most places. Mayors, premiers and the feds act in dictatorial fashion, and with the support of most people.

But at what point will workers stop being afraid of their colleagues or the subway? When will meetings resume? When will shopping no longer be painful, the government cheques end and small businesses stop going extinct?

A vaccine may be the endgame. But what if it doesn’t come for a few years? Or if all the anti-vaxxers refuse to be dosed, compromising herd immunity?

Some months ago we said this was not a virus blog. No serious epidemiology here. No expertise on infectious diseases. No public health insights, or advice to give. Still the case. But that was April. This is August. Covid seems under control in Canada (yay!) but the level of public anxiety has only increased. That KPMG poll is completely bad news for the economy, and the recent mandating of universal mask-wearing in most places is a daily, constant, in-your-face reminder that the virus – despite the numbers of infections – is winning.

Here is today’s question. I ask that everyone making a comment answer it: for you, how does this end?

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August 6th, 2020

Posted In: The Greater Fool

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