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No appetite for lockdowns, but we’ll have to follow the rules

As we embark on a second wave of COVID-19, pandemic fatigue and the financial crunch mean we’re unlikely to see widespread lockdowns.

But as other jurisdictions including Quebec have shown, we could see some rolling back to early stages of the economic reopening plan, along with geographically contained lockdowns.

What we’re already seeing is an actual crackdown on businesses and individuals who flout coronavirus regulations when it comes to large gatherings, lack of social distancing and a refusal to wear masks. Big parties, particularly among students, are a particular topic of official ire – see, for instance, Western University’s investigation of some 100 students after campus police broke up parties at university residences over the weekend.

The need to move on such gatherings is apparent both in the spike in overall cases – we’re back to levels not seen since early on in the crisis – and the increase in the number of those under the age of 40. The demographics have shifted, perhaps driven by a sense the virus is less harmful to younger people and the increasingly prevalent COVID fatigue.

It’s true that younger people are less likely to get sick or die if they contract COVID-19, in the absence of underlying health conditions, but there are no guarantees that will be the case. More to the point, young people carrying the virus, especially if they’re asymptomatic, can easily spread it to others, including those more likely to get sick and die.

Beyond the potential loss of life, there’s a risk larger numbers of patients could overwhelm the health care system, an even bigger worry heading into flu season. Flattening that curve is precisely why we went into a lockdown last spring, and officials are justifiably worried about a repeat of those circumstances.

At this point, however, a number of us questioning whether any and all of the measures taken to curb the spread of the virus were warranted: the death toll has been relatively small, and largely restricted to those already among the most vulnerable from a health perspective. There’s a growing sentiment in public forums that the age of those with the virus is skewing younger is another reason to ease off restrictions if the goals is to protect those most likely to get very sick and/or die.

Such arguments may be misguided – and self-serving for those looking to get back to life as normal – but they will factor into how government officials respond: restrictive measures are a harder-sell among certain parts of the population.

That’s not to say we should aim for herd immunity, let nature run its course and get back to business as usual. There are undoubtedly those who advocate such an approach, but that’s just not an option. Finding some middle ground is the job of health officials and government officials, particularly at the federal level.

Just now in Ottawa, however, the battle is over financial supports, as the economy remains precarious and many Canadians are still out of work. The Trudeau government is attempting to speed through new income support programs that were announced last month. The measures are to replace the expired Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) of $500 a week with an enhanced employment insurance system, which comes with a price tag of at least $37 billion. The economics of the situation do matter.

There’s no way to make society 100 per cent safe, but acting responsibly is an option each of us can and must undertake. Again, we need only look at the renewed outbreaks in the U.S. to see what happens when the proper precautions are not in place … and when significant numbers of people fail to do what’s right for themselves, others and their communities.

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