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Two years in, pandemic fatigue is pronounced beyond the fringes

Pandemic fatigue has more than a few of us questioning the ongoing restrictions, just now being eased in Ontario, where residents have been subjected to yo-yo treatment.

With COVID-19 on its way to becoming an endemic issue, there’s even less appetite for the kind of lockdowns and loss of freedoms that have become commonplace in the last couple of years.

That’s not to say there’s no room for precautions – the likes of mask-wearing and vaccines – but Omicron has shown us that there’s no value to locking the barn door long after the horses have bolted. Someone just needs to tell that to reactionary politicians who are behind the curve.

Sending some kind of message is the goal of a truck convoy that descended on Ottawa. Make that mixed messages, as the somewhat dubious venture isn’t really about vaccine mandates for truckers crossing the US border. It may have started that way – or perhaps not – but it was certainly joined by others with agendas that range from anti-Trudeau sentiment to white supremacy.

Chafing at restrictions is only natural. Government power should be limited, used only for essential purposes. Some bureaucrats obviously believe the pandemic warrants the exercise of power; not everyone agrees, clearly.

Mistakes have undoubtedly been made. Money wasted. Boundaries overstepped. We can hope for accountability, but that’s unlikely. There’ll be time for looking back and assigning blame later on. For now, Ontario Premier Doug Ford is on the right track when he suggests we should learn to live with the virus.

The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is likely to become endemic, meaning it’s here to stay and we’ll have to work around it.

That means we may end up dealing with COVID-19 like we do with seasonal colds and flu. The jury is still out on an endemic path for the virus, one that sees it stick around rather than being eradicated, but experts are increasingly leaning in that direction. The optimistic view is that enough people will gain immune protection from vaccination and from natural infection such that there will be less transmission and much less hospitalization and death, even as the virus continues to circulate.

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. (It’s for that reason that vaccines have to be distributed globally – experience has shown us that new variants that arise someplace halfway around the planet quickly arrive on our doorsteps.)

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 the virus. At that point, we can do away with most or all of the measures put in place more than a year and a half ago, with inoculation being our best line of defence.

That eventuality is the rationale for vaccine mandates set by Ottawa for federally regulated workplaces and sectors, including the trucking industry. In the meantime, the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) has disapproved of protests on public roadways.

“The government of Canada and the United States have now made being vaccinated a requirement to cross the border. This regulation is not changing so, as an industry, we must adapt and comply with this mandate,” said CTA president Stephen Laskowski in a release. “The only way to cross the border, in a commercial truck or any other vehicle, is to get vaccinated.”

“While a number of Canadians are in Ottawa to voice their displeasure over this mandate, it also appears that a great number of these protestors have no connection to the trucking industry and have a separate agenda beyond a disagreement over cross border vaccine requirements. As these protests unfold over the weekend, we ask the Canadian public to be aware that many of the people you see and hear in media reports do not have a connection to the trucking industry.”

Those taking part in the protest aren’t representative of the industry any more than anti-vaxxers represent most Canadians, who overwhelmingly have been vaccinated and support mandates.

We’ve also seen mandatory vaccination policies in some sectors and among some employers, notably healthcare providers in Ontario, where the provincial government has opted against mandatory measures.

Those are important steps not only to stem the spread of the virus and resultant hospitalizations, but to provide the public with some confidence as we attempt to return to a life that resembles pre-pandemic times. 

Confidence may not be as abundant as we’d like, but we’re starting to not only see a post-pandemic future, but to act as if that’s the case.

The Omicron blip was relatively short-lived, with much of the public reaction based on the potential (over)reaction of government officials rather than health concerns. Details are still forthcoming, but there don’t appear to be extraordinary impacts from the variant. Rather, we feared additional lockdowns or re-imposition of restrictions, which occurred for the past month but are starting to be lifted now.

One would think there’d be little political will for any additional restrictions, pandemic fatigue means the public won’t buy in. That’s certainly on display with an increasing number of protests, which are not limited to conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, extremists and those with political agendas happy to take advantage of any chaos.

Moreover, the economic situation makes regression a non-starter, as not only did governments overspend in reaction – the fallout of which has yet to occur, though we’ll never see any real accountability for poor decisions – but the economy already has more than a few issues to overcome even at this point in the reopening.

The agenda-laden protests in Ottawa are a sideshow, but it’s clear that Canadians are increasingly skeptical of governance, particularly on the pandemic file.

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