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Ontario Task Force Director - "If we were to act like Switzerland, we would be in a state of war"

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Canada suffers from a third corona wave. For the first time in this pandemic, the number of infections is relatively higher than in neighboring USA. Hospitals are reaching their capacity limits. In the province of Ontario, some hospitals are also preparing to triage patients.

Right in the middle of this tense situation in Canada is the Swiss Peter Jüni, professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto. He is the director of the scientific panel advising the Ontario government on the pandemic. The epidemiologist has repeatedly expressed himself very critically and sometimes emotionally about the government's decisions.

Peter Jüni

Epidemiologist and Director of the Ontario Pandemic Scientific Advisory Board

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Peter Jüni is Director of the Applied Health Research Center (AHRC) at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael's Hospital in Canada. He is Professor at the University of Toronto and Director of the Scientific Task Force for the Provincial Government in Ontario.

Jüni is a graduate of the Medical Faculty of the University of Bern and completed his training in internal medicine at various hospitals in Switzerland. Jüni was founding director of the CTU Bern, the department for clinical studies at the university.

SRF News: What's Going Wrong With Ontario Pandemic Management?

Peter Jüni: In principle, it is what we see everywhere in the world. The pandemic as it is now is generally extremely difficult for politicians. Politicians are typically very short-term oriented. You cannot muster up the understanding for this complexity and focus on short-term successes. That makes it difficult.

The dangerous variants B 1.1.7 are the perfect sabotage for any political system.

Variant B.1.1.7 is 40 to 50 percent more transferable. This means that the measures that previously worked are no longer effective.

Many people in Canada live with very little or no social security. 50 percent of our cases are people who make sure that the rest of us can stay at home in these precarious working conditions. Many have no sick pay, no social security and far too little support. This pandemic has now, in principle, unmasked exactly that. It's the same story everywhere: Life is not fair - "Life is unfair".

As a scientific advisor, do you feel that you belong to the government?

My function has to be to communicate as well and efficiently as possible. And I have emphasized several times: my role is to point out the obvious. I try to make this as clear as possible in public, but also in the background with the ministries.

That went relatively well until February. Although we have tried to make the problem as visible as possible, the political considerations have been too heavily influenced. If we were to do the same thing as Switzerland, we would be in a state of war regarding coronavirus. That is perfectly clear because the social differences are so great. And it's difficult to understand, especially for a conservative politician.

A little over a week ago you spoke of the “blackest day of your career”. Doug Ford, the Prime Minister of Ontario, decided to shut down playgrounds and allow the police to control and penalize people indiscriminately. What was it that disappointed you so much about this decision?

If you understand the characteristics of this pandemic to some extent, then you know: The pandemic primarily takes place inside and not outside. If you want to get that under control, you have to do it inside.

Our role as scientists is that we have to keep working our asses.

The other characteristic is: it is a socio-economically driven pandemic. 50 percent of those affected work in poorly paid jobs, for example in supermarkets or warehouses. So we need to support these people so that they can stay at home if they become ill or are exposed. This works via continued payment of wages. The Canadian government made the wrong decision at this point.

You have considered resigning from the scientific advisory board. Why didn't you go?

In my opinion we have a communication problem. In situations like this, if it's so discrepant, I ask myself: What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently? But I also asked myself whether I shouldn't resign in order to improve the situation in favor of the province. It then became clear relatively quickly that resigning would not have been a good idea. The vacuum would be too big.

As a scientist in this pandemic, what kind of relationship to politics would you wish for?

Our role as scientists is that we have to keep working our asses to get the province of Ontario through the pandemic as best we can. We do this knowing that it is no picnic for any politician in the world. It's just very difficult to understand.

Everything that is being relaxed in Switzerland. I'm really worried that the wrong steps won't happen.

I have to honestly say: when I see everything that is being relaxed in Switzerland - for example, going to the cinema. I am very worried that the wrong steps will not be taken. This is despite the fact that in Switzerland - compared to here - you live in Disneyland. People forget how privileged Switzerland is.

Hardly any parallels to Switzerland

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From a socio-economic point of view, Ontario is in a much worse position, explains Jüni. But when it comes to communication, Canada is probably in a better position than Switzerland. “This has to do with the fact that the co-chair of the Canadian Corona Task Force, Adalsteinn Brown, meets with the government on a daily basis. I also meet with ministers and the crisis team on a weekly basis. But I heard from Switzerland that the chairman of the Swiss task force said a while ago that he hadn't heard from Health Minister Alain Berset for six weeks. " There is a different groove in Canada. Jüni believes that people stand together more. "We are somehow united as a scientific community."

SRF 4 News, April 27, 2021, 8:45 am; srf / horm; schp; sibl

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  • Comment from Hans Peter (Byron)
    I have read the interview 3 times now. It is probably due to my inadequate understanding of the text, but I still haven't understood why there would be a state of war in Ontario if one would proceed "as in Switzerland". Can someone from the commentator community help me out?
    Agree agree to the comment
    1. answer from Sebastian Winterhalder (zeradun)
      Dear Mr. Peter,

      It's not because of your understanding of the text, more of an understanding of social security. If an employee (self-employed people have their own set of rules) falls ill in Switzerland, the employer must continue to pay wages. If you are ill for a longer period of time there is further help, including government assistance. In Canada it seems like that when someone is sick (Long-Covid etc). then there is simply no wage. So the sick person cannot earn any money for food. No food = war
      Agree agree to the comment
    2. Show answers
  • Comment from Jochen Schlicksupp (Scrutinize)
    ... why is he worried that the wrong steps are NOT happening?
    Does that mean he's worried about taking the right steps?
    Agree agree to the comment
  • Comment from Fabian Malovini (malovini.ch)
    mr juni seems to be of the opinion that politicians will lack understanding if they do not follow his suggestions. Is it clear to him that you can understand something and still disagree with him?
    Agree agree to the comment
    1. answer from Sebastian Winterhalder (zeradun)
      Dear Mr. Malovini,

      Yes, some politicians lack understanding. Statistics and empirical values, with which Mr. Jüni has to do on a daily basis, since he makes calculations and extrapolations, etc. now show consequences as well as possibilities to a comprehensible degree. The problem is, the opinion of politicians is based on the opinion of the people ... the opinion of researchers on research. Who's right now? Do you think medicine is ready because it is based on opinion?
      Agree agree to the comment
    2. Show answers

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