'The value of a statistical life' and tiptoe through Dutch tulips; In The News for March 27

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what's on the radar of our editors for the morning of March 27 ...

COVID-19 in Canada ...

Canadians will get an idea today of what the COVID-19 pandemic could mean for Canada's economy and the federal government's balance sheet, with the release of a new report from the parliamentary budget officer.

Yves Giroux is planning to post on his website this morning a "scenario analysis" that is intended to help parliamentarians gauge the potential economic and fiscal implications from the combined health crisis and the collapse of oil prices.

Such analyses typically involve a variety of projected outcomes based on a number of possible, alternative scenarios.

The federal government has already poured $107 billion into fighting the pandemic —$52 billion in financial assistance to individuals and businesses and $55 billion in deferred taxes — and billions more are expected to flow in the days to come.

Indeed, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expecting to announce more support today for businesses and entrepreneurs.

A fiscal update issued by Finance Minister Bill Morneau in December showed the Liberal government on track to run a deficit of $26.6 billion in the current fiscal year, which ends on March 30, and $28.1 billion next year.

---

Also this ...

The federal Liberal government used some of the sternest language diplomacy allows as it condemned a White House proposal to send soldiers to the Canada-U.S. border, ostensibly to keep illegal migrants from spreading COVID-19.

Canada has argued "forcefully" against the idea, said Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, who was reluctant to characterize the status of the proposal — first reported by Global News — beyond saying a U.S. decision "has not yet been acted upon or fully taken."

But Freeland, who is normally pointed in refusing to conduct private negotiations in public, made clear that the idea is not finding favour in Ottawa.

"Canada is strongly opposed to this U.S. proposal and we have made that opposition very, very clear to our American counterparts," she told a media briefing in the national capital.

Indeed, it may never come to pass, she suggested: countries around the world, including Canada, have been responding with uncharacteristic speed and urgency to an escalating global emergency — a process that involves discussing any and all measures, no matter how drastic, even if they don't come to fruition.

---

COVID-19 in the U.S. ...

The contrast could hardly be more stark. Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York has said that if all of his sweeping, expensive measures to stem the coronavirus saved one life, it would be worth it. President Donald Trump has another view: The costs of shutting down the economy outweigh the benefits, frequently telling Americans that 35,000 people a year die from the common flu.

Though it may seem crass, the federal government actually has long made a calculation when imposing regulations, called “the value of a statistical life,” that places a price tag on a human life. It has been used to consider whether to require seat belts, airbags or environmental regulations, but it has never been applied in a broad public health context.

The question is now an urgent one given that Trump in recent days has latched on to the notion that the cure for the pandemic should not be worse than the disease and argued that “more people are going to die if we allow this to continue” if the economy remains closed. He has targeted a return to a semblance of normalcy for the economy by Easter Sunday, April 12.

Critics say he’s presenting the nation with a false choice at a moment when deaths and infections from the virus are surging.

“We’re not going to accept a premise that human life is disposable,” said Cuomo, whose state has seen far more infections and deaths from COVID-19 than any other state. “And we’re not going to put a dollar figure on human life.”

---

COVID-19 around the world ...

Some of India's legions of poor and others suddenly thrown out of work by a nationwide stay-at-home order began receiving aid on Thursday, as both public and private groups worked to blunt the impact of efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

India's finance ministry announced a 1.7 trillion ($22 billion) economic stimulus package that will include delivering grains and lentil rations for three months to 800 million people, some 60% of the world's second-most populous country.

In the meantime, police in one state were giving rations of rice to shanty dwellers, while another state's government deposited cash into the bank accounts of newly unemployed workers. Aid groups worked to greatly expand the number of meals they could hand out.

The unprecedented order keeping India's 1.3 billion people at home for all but essential trips to places like markets or pharmacies is meant to keep the virus from surging above the 593 active cases and 13 deaths currently recorded and overwhelming an already strained health care system.

The measures that went into effect Wednesday — the largest of their kind in the world — risk heaping further hardship on the quarter of the population who live below the poverty line and the 1.8 million who are homeless.

---

COVID-19 in springtime ...

The manicured lawns and pathways winding the flower beds at the Keukenhof spring garden, normally crowded with thousands of visitors on any given sun-splashed spring day, were deserted Thursday.

A lonely worker pushed his wheelbarrow through the garden, carrying out maintenance even though nobody will be allowed to visit the Dutch park this season because of restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

“It feels very bad, you can imagine," said Keukenhof Director Bart Siemerink. "It really hurts. For all the gardeners, for all the people involved.”

In a normal year, there are plenty of people — some 1,300 — involved in grooming the garden, working in stores and restaurants and maintaining order in the busy parking lot.

But this is not a normal year and now only about 40-50 staff are working to maintain the park to ensure it can reopen in 2021.

The Keukenhof's annual eight-week opening, which usually attracts some 1.5 million visitors from more than 100 countries, was postponed last week, and on Wednesday cancelled altogether. It's not the only major Dutch tourist site that has fallen victim to the virus' march across the world. The Van Gogh Museum and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam are shuttered, and even the brothels in the city's Red Light district have closed down.

---

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2020.

The Canadian Press