The Current

Health-care workers need support to overcome war on COVID-19: Romeo Dallaire

Retired Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire has a message of support for health-care workers on the front lines — and explains why we need to adjust our mindset about the pandemic.

Retired Lt.-Gen. Dallaire says we need to adopt an ‘offensive’ approach to pandemic

Retired Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire led the UN's peacekeeping mission in Rwanda during the country's genocide. He sees parallels in the COVID-19 crisis. (Sinisa Jolic/CBC)

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The impact of dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak shouldn't be "underestimated" when it comes to front-line medical workers, according to retired Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire.

"These front-line people are taking decisions of life and potentially death of human beings," said Dallaire, a former Senator and a vocal spokesperson on post-traumatic stress disorder.

"They're going to see the eyes of these people when they tell them things, they're going to see the eyes of their own staff ... knowing that there's going to be an impact on some of the patients," he told The Current's Matt Galloway.

"You can't erase that purely by saying: 'Well, it's a shame.' You can't erase it either by simply saying: 'You know, I did the best I can' — there will be a residual impact of that."

On March 23, Dallaire posted messages of support for health-care personnel on his Twitter account, telling them to trust their instincts and rely on each other in the work ahead.

He told Galloway that front-line workers will need that support from their peers and their organizations, and "have got to build resiliency within themselves so that they can, in fact, absorb these human decisions on human life." 

Dallaire led the UN's peacekeeping mission in Rwanda during the country's genocide, in which more than 800,000 people were killed in a mere 100 days.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic, which has passed 1.3 million confirmed cases worldwide, is similar to an armed conflict.

"We are in combat; we're in campaign; we're battling in this campaign," he said.

"This campaign is part of a grander global war against a threat that is killing people … and affecting our economy, affecting our way of life."

He sees parallels between the two crises in that the pandemic has left people "seeking to allay fear" and equip themselves with everything they need to protect themselves and their families. 

Sure, we'll lose some battles; we lose battles in war. But losing a battle is not losing the war​​​​- Lt.-Gen. Romeo Dallaire

But he thinks Canada "can come out of this thing much stronger, with more maturity in how a society should take care of itself and evolve." 

To do that, we need to take an offensive, rather than defensive approach to the fight, he said.

We need to be "doing the right things, but doing it with a spirit of collegial, national enthusiasm to get the damn thing sorted out and to beat the enemy," he said.

Dallaire thinks the offensive approach should be adopted at the highest levels of government.

But he said it won't work if leaders don't inspire efforts, or if they allow us to conclude that "we're being overwhelmed and that we cannot, in fact, see the end."

"Sure, we'll lose some battles; we lose battles in war. But losing a battle is not losing the war," he said.

"That has got to be put into perspective."

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Idella Sturino.

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