Nfld. & Labrador·Q&A

Writer Jon Parsons on sharing the COVID-19 'success story' of N.L.

A Newfoundland-born writer says the province can be proud of it's virus response since March 2020.

Newfoundland-born writer says province can be proud of virus response

A man rides his bicycle at a COVID-19 assessment centre as a thank you sign for health-care workers is on display at a hospital in Toronto on April 22, 2020. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

A Newfoundland-born writer says the province can be proud of how far it's come in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic since March 2020.

Jon Parsons is author of a new book, titled COVID-19 and Ethics in Canada. Looking across the country during the first two years of the pandemic, Parsons writes that Newfoundland and Labrador has outperformed the rest of the country when it comes to handling COVID-19.

Parsons spoke with CBC Radio's The St. John's Morning Show host Ramraajh Sharvendiran about his book.

The discussion has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: In what way did you see that this province is a bit of a success story when it came to the pandemic? 

A: I think a big part of the pandemic story has been told through numbers and data. Even in that very basic sense, the Newfoundland and Labrador story with respect to case counts and the unfortunate number of deaths even has been, compared to the rest of the country and globally, very very small. Part of what I'm interested in in the work that I'm doing is to try to talk about the pandemic in ways that aren't just about the data and the numbers. So I look at our facts and the kind of morals and the values that go with particular kinds of actions, and the way that particular communities have responded to the pandemic. And even in that regard, I say that the Newfoundland and Labrador story has been a success in terms of the way communities have come together and enacted what I call an ethic of collective care. 

We saw a high level of compliance in this province with isolation requirements and vaccinations. The care aspect that you were discussing, is that why we saw that compliance?

I think it's part of the reason, for sure. I think there's a distinction to be drawn between saying that Newfoundlanders, Labradorians are rule followers, and that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are enacting these kind of things to look after their neighbours … There is not "people are just following the rules because they've been told to follow the rule." They, in my view, look at these restrictions and look at the things they're being asked to do and say, "This makes good sense. This is reasonable. These are ways that we can protect one another and protect vulnerable people in our communities." People are doing it for a good reason, right? And I think it's the reasons that communities do things and the reasons that people have responded to the pandemic is as important as sometimes the actions themselves. 

In many jurisdictions across the country, public health officials became an important figure in the discussions and in the messaging. Here, it was our chief medical officer of health, Dr. Janice Fitzgerald. What role do you think she played in how the province took the the public health messaging?

I think it was huge. Leadership and messaging and clear communication is so important in a situation like this. And you know, I'm not setting out here to say that everything about the provincial government's response and everything about the response from CMOH was perfect. But overall, I think having that clear communication, having a consistent message, having it grounded in caring about other people and caring about communities really resonated in the province. 

By contrast, I won't name names, but here in Ontario and in other jurisdictions, British Columbia, the messaging and the communication from the leadership has not been nearly as clear. And at times it it has seemed that the leadership has been working at odds even with the population, or with what would have been required to get people on board. 

In reflecting on some of the successes this province has had, we also know that with the Omicron wave, the province has seen more deaths in due to COVID-19 than in any other point in the pandemic. How do you square that in this conversation?

Again, I don't think everything has been perfect. I think an earlier example as well was that election that was called in the midst of or, you know, as an outbreak took place. So that was a stumble. And I think there's some big questions to be asked about what's happening now with this Omicron wave and the way the reopening is happening. The way that puts particular people, particularly vulnerable people, older adults, people with disabilities at risk. So there is an ethical question around that. And I think that perhaps this is another one of those examples where the province needed to have taken it from a closer look at how they're doing things.

Jon Parsons, a writer and researcher from Newfoundland and Labrador, lives in Toronto. (Submitted by Jon Parsons)

However, I think it's also a situation where the province is … connected to other parts of this country and other parts of the globe where people and governments, you know, regions have not acted as responsibly, and in some ways, the province is being held hostage by that. So you can be a lifeboat and close yourself off from the rest of the world sort of perpetually, or you can sort of come to the realization that the bad actions of others, to put it fairly crudely, are going to mean that you are going to have to deal with some of this and you're seeing this in other jurisdictions, too.

New Zealand was another example of a place that had extraordinary success story of the pandemic and right now is going through a similar kind of difficult Omicron wave. So yeah, there's questions to be asked for sure. And this Omicron wave in Newfoundland and Labrador is certainly one of them. But again, I think on the whole, we have to talk about this as a success story. 

Well done, Newfoundland and Labrador. A new book says this province outperformed the rest of the country in handling the pandemic. Author Jon Parsons joins us to discuss his findings.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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