Most of Ontario’s pandemic-related restrictions will be lifted by the end of the month, with Premier Doug Ford arguing we’ve simply had enough. Mask mandates will remain, but the government is already signalling an end there too.
Other provinces have accelerated such easing, with Alberta and Saskatchewan leading the charge.
Federally, the government has begun easing requirements for border crossings.
As with the cancellations and closures that began in March of 2020, once a domino falls, more quickly follow suit. We can expect others to follow in short order.
Public health officials have their reservations, but the changes reflect public sentiment. This isn’t about anti-vaxxers and mask-mandate opponents. Rather, it’s a recognition that the virus is going endemic and that restrictions can’t be extended indefinitely, if only because of the massive economic penalties that have been imposed – that applies to record government deficits and the enormous business losses that have been incurred.
The provincial gear-shifting comes as the record-setting spikes brought on by the Omicron variant appear to be receding. Case numbers are down, as are hospitalizations and ICU usage. The government is banking on continued improvements to support its decision.
You can bet officials will be watching closely to see what happens after March 1. A spike in numbers may provoke calls for new restrictions, though anything short of a catastrophic relapse is unlikely to sway government policy. Most Ontarians will be happy to move on, so going back would be difficult.
In an ideal world, an early lockdown and our stringent adherence to public health measures would have nipped the novel coronavirus in the bud. That’s not what happened. Nor have on-and-off attempts since March of 2020 been completely fruitful.
We’ve had rolling attempts at lockdowns and reopenings, with measures that had some efficacy. Not everyone took all the necessary precautions, however, the virus continued to spread at a greater rate than what might have been.
In the end, we have a trade-off between our choices, overly restrictive governance and the economy.
Arguments about liberties and freedom have been more muted here than in the US, for example – though the recent ill-intentioned truck convoys and related activities were a dramatic change of mood. Still, most of us recognize there’s a health-related crisis.
Most pressingly, people still have to work, shop for essentials and care for loved ones, among other reasons total self-isolation wasn’t a viable option.
The last of those, our need to carry on some facets of regular life, can’t be understated, though that isn’t carte blanche for people not to carry out precautions such as mask-wearing and keeping their distance. Still, the likes of grocery shopping, medical issues and care-giving made outings essential. We’ve largely been able to grin and bear it, but there’s a limit to that.
Recognizing that fact, governments are easing up, rolling the dice that any fallout will be limited. Facing pressure to reopen their economies, they’ll be damned if they do and if they don’t.
The economic hardships aside, people are becoming increasingly frustrated about staying at home, their usual social activities curtailed and acquiring the essentials more costly and inconvenient than they’re used to. That will become a bigger issue when the weather starts improving in the spring.
Rationally, we know these measures are in place for our safety and, more to the point, for the safety of others, family, friends and strangers alike. But rationality gets stressed a little thinner with each day, irrespective of individual financial situations. This week’s announcement from Ford reflects that reality.