It’s been a while since I’ve written an update on the state of the world, or at least my little corner of it, as COVID-19 continues to influence our lives. The messages the media and news outlets of the world are starting to align again; this time, however, the announcements are starting to sound the reversal of imposed restrictions and a return to a life more open and familiar.
The World Health Organization isn’t ready to call it an endemic, at least not yet; you will no doubt remember this is the same WHO that waited too long before declaring COVID-19 a pandemic in the first place, so I expect there will be no early pronouncement of endemic conditions until there is little chance of the organization’s credibility being further harmed. This leaves the governments of countries around the world left to their own devices in order to determine when it is safe to remove the restrictions they imposed upon their citizens and allow them to return to lives they may find more familiar and comforting than the ones they lived when pandemically limited.
A year ago in May, Alberta’s premier announced ‘the best Summer ever,’ and by fall we were experiencing the Delta wave. In December, merely a week before Christmas, the Omicron wave was upon us, spreading so easily and quickly that testing could not keep up and true case counts will never be known. The latest wave saw patients admissions to hospitals eclipse that of the Delta wave, but this time, when the ICU numbers started to creep up, they did not exceed the levels that nearly brought collapse to the health care system in November. The difference with this wave was that our Chief Medical Officer of Health told us that if we were experiencing any of the symptoms, with testing revealing over 40% positivity, we should assume that we had COVID and to isolate until the symptoms, or 5 days had passed.
This past December also brought another gift to the world, the first anti-viral treatment was announced for approval, and we took another step closer to an endemic reality. The announcement of this important pandemic milestone roughly aligned with the announcements a year previously, of the first of the COVID-19 vaccines were proceeding to emergency approval.
For many, this sparked the first signs of stimulation of signs of movement in the dormant lifestyle we once knew (and perhaps had been previously lost to). The Boil was going to return, this was your final warning to hold tight to your Pause learnings. The warning was clear, the temperature is about to be turned up and you’re on notice, what comes with a return of freedoms and familiarity might not be all you’d hoped for, or need to live a happy, healthy life.
Had it not been for false starts, and hopes previously dashed, it might have been easy to get lost to the warmth of what was familiar and could be again and push rapidly towards it. Like a diver doing interval stops while surfacing, the call of the comfort of warm air, puffy whiteness of clouds, blue sky, and warm winds hidden just through the ripples of clear blue water is strong, but by now you know that to avoid pain and suffering, you must have the discipline to avoid surfacing too quickly. The border that separates our two states of existence, one with COVID infringed rights, and one that allows the ability to roam freely, beckons and tempts you to step over it, and you will, when you decide it’s the right time to do so. Do not rush, but be ready to seek help if you can’t find it within you to take that final step.
In the past two weeks, there has been a flurry of announcements in countries around the world, including within my own, as many provinces in Canada started to announce the undoing of the restrictions that were implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the impact on our health systems.
I experienced more than a little deja vu (I expect many of you did as well) when on February 8th, 2022, the Alberta government suddenly announced the province’s reopening plan, with Stage 1 starting that night.
With now only a week remaining until March 1st and the anticipated move to Step 2 (wait where did the Stages go? looks like the messaging needed some additional polish be3fore being rushed to release) of the reopening, I realized yesterday I best get to work immediately on a post, or I might well get more than a little caught up in the new Boil and miss capturing an important moment in COVID-19 history.
Infographics like the one below are now very familiar to Albertans but soon be a thing of a past. When these disappear from the Alberta.ca website, it will signify an end, from the government’s perspective, to the pandemic, but for the families of the 3830 individuals who have died (so far) during the pandemic, I know their feelings and experiences will not be so easily vanished.
There appears to be little to stop Step 2 from proceeding, as case numbers are dropping, however I can’t imagine we’ll see ourselves fully introducing Step 3 while Omicron remains dominate, or until such point as there’s an Omicron specific booster to the vaccines running through the majority of veins these days.
My hope is that these recent movements in reopening do not prove to be a foolish retelling of last spring, and the high price of Delta’s, then Omicron’s arrivals in the fall and early winter.
It doesn’t take much armchair quarterbacking to determine that the action taken by the federal and provincial governments to secure our borders from Omicron transmission, was too little, too late. The Omicron variant spread more rapidly and easily than any other during the pandemic. The federal government’s action did succeed, however, in lighting the fuse on a national crisis that plays itself out today in debates at Parliament Hill regarding the implementation of the Emergency Act.
Around Canada, and in Ottawa in particular, truckers protested against the changed vaccination requirements to cross borders, and convoys were formed to protest. These protests saw border crossings blocked, the lives of citizens disrupted, disrupted trade, and impeded the economy while becoming a regular story in the media around the world.
Despite these announcements of reopenings becoming more frequent and widespread, the protesters remained, demanding immediate removal of all restrictions. After more than three weeks, the RCMP moved on the Coutts border crossing, arresting 13 individuals, and recovering long guns and body armour. Fringe radical groups including those of white supremacist’s are alleged to have joined or infiltrated this protest and others. Go-Fund-Me donations flooded in in support of the Ottawa convoy, from individuals and corporations, not just from Canada, but from the United States. As in so many other North American political scenarios recently, fake Facebook accounts alleged to originate out of Russia have emerged to stir the pot on civil unrest, perhaps with the intent to draw attention away from the threat of war resulting from Russia’s military massing on the borders of the Ukraine border (a topic best left for another type of blog).
The protests themselves seem to have occurred just a little too late, and without much success in drawing attention to their cause for by those Canadians who were minimally impacted by them. As the convoys were reaching their destinations, announcements were starting to be made by the provinces regarding reopening timelines and strategy. While no doubt some of the fringe elements will have claimed credit for these announcements, it is not deserved in it’s entirety, but perhaps some small degree of credit is owed for timelines being advanced, even if only slightly.
However, after more than three weeks of protests, this week saw the federal government lead by Prime Minister Trudeau (who’s father enacted the War Measures Act in order to end the October Crisis) apparently utilizing the Emergencies Act to freeze the bank accounts of protestors. This past Saturday, the interim chief of Police in Ottawa sent police forces from around the country to clear the residential streets of the Capital and Parliament Hill. Social media tweets from law enforcement agencies state that despite the protests now being cleared, participant/supporters of the protests will be found (one would assume to face degrees of legal and financial repercussions enabled by the activation of the Emergencies Act).
Reports in the media say that two-thirds of Canadians feel that it is time the COVID restrictions be lifted. Similarly, two-thirds of Canadians also feel it was time to use the Emergencies Act to end the protests of the last three weeks. I’d like to think this shows that two-thirds of Canadians are level headed, can see both sides of an argument, are practical and logical enough to weight the costs and benefits of an action (to protect or to protest), and can, with measured reason and stereotypical Canadian politeness, return to staying out of each other’s damn business. The divisiveness that COVID-19 has exposed in our society isn’t gone, and nor should it, as we need to have checks and balances outside the construct of formal government, but it would be nice to believe our default position is one that will allow us to simply just kick back, discuss, collectively have a beer and give a nod to each other for having made it a good game.
Maybe we can put all this divisiveness behind us for even just for a little while. After we’ve collectively found recovery and our new normal, that those who interested or so moved can go back to seeking political office in order to sling mud at each other for their amusement, and respectfully let others exercise their rights to be left out of such matters, if they so desire.
Our freedoms are bruised by the COVID-19 experience, the damage is not irreparable and will soon heal, allowing us to get back to focusing on and debating whose hockey team is Stanley Cup ordained, and whose team needs to tear down and rebuild, again.
Written with respect to the protesters: we heard you, thank you for stepping up to protect your rights, and those of your fellow Canadians.