If Doug Ford’s new year’s resolution was to make 2022 better than the last two years, he broke it in short order. Returning to lockdown mode means this year is off to a bad start.
Two years into the pandemic, we appear to have learned little.
Lockdowns were called for early on as we tried to get a handle on the novel coronavirus, looking to halt its spread, or at least slow it. That horse bolted long ago, yet here we are closing the barn door yet again.
Today, lockdowns and similar restrictions appear to be moves adopted so that it looks like governments are doing something. Worse still, the things they should have been doing having gone undone, ensuring access to rapid, walk-in vaccinations being the highest priority. Encouraging people to get booster shots – and first and second doses for those still dawdling – becomes meaningless without accessibility.
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That’s true of testing, too, though widespread testing also becomes meaningless in the face of hurdles when the Omicron variant transmits so quickly. By the time someone gets tested and gets the results, contact exposures could have blossomed, especially in the case of asymptomatic people. Omicron has a doubling time of 2.7 days according to Ontario’s COVID Science Advisory Table, so managing contacts and other variables is increasingly difficult. And pretty much impossible if people are waiting days and weeks just to get tested.
Public health officials say that if you’ve got the symptoms, you should simply assume you’ve got COVID-19. The system doesn’t have the capacity to test everyone with symptoms, let alone those who may have been in contact with an infected person. At this point, it likely makes sense to assume everyone not in your bubble has COVID. Or maybe to simply assume that it’s everywhere.
That’s why taking precautions such as mask-wearing and social distancing continue to make sense, as they have from the beginning. But if exposure is generally assumed and the Omicron strain less virulent, we may have to treat the virus as endemic, rather like influenza. The flu kills some 7,000 Canadians each year. COVID-19 has killed more than 30,000 people here since a pandemic was declared less than two years ago. The two are not the same, though they may end up in the same boat eventually, and us with them.
Which brings us back to vaccinations. Right now, getting fully vaccinated – plus a booster – is the best way to reduce the impact of COVID-19. The shot doesn’t prevent you from catching the virus, but it does lessen the likelihood of serious illness and death. Those getting sickest and being hospitalized are likely to be the unvaccinated.
To date, some 77 per cent of Canadians has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, with 83 per cent having received at least one dose. That’s about double the annual average of 40 per cent of Canadian adults who typically get a seasonal flu shot, a number that may have to change if COVID-19 becomes an endemic virus against which we have to be “boosted” annually, for instance.
That doesn’t mean we do nothing now. Nor does it mean we end mask mandates and vaccination drives. With the latter, in fact, health experts note that increased vaccination rates could help reduce the number of variants while reducing the severity of infections, and cut down on hospitalization rates and fatalities.
When the disease shifts from pandemic to endemic, the health outcomes will be less severe, and we’ll be better able to manage and accept the lowered risks associated with the virus. At that point, we can do away with most or all of the measures put in place almost two years ago, with inoculation being our best line of defence.
The best strategy for governments at all levels starts with access to vaccines and protecting the most vulnerable, and then quickly move away from costly economic measures – lockdowns, payouts and the like – in favour of a recovery.