Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Is the Covid-19 Pandemic Over?

Have we reached a turning point in the pandemic?

Nearly every prediction I’ve made throughout this pandemic (it won’t be a big deal, it won’t last long, they’ll never be able to create a vaccine that fast, of course people will get vaccinated, there’s no way they are going to lock us down again, now that we have three shots we won’t get Covid) have been proven completely wrong. It’s been a wily and unpredictable virus. Politicians have made mistakes. Public health officials have made mistakes. Scientists have made mistakes. Pharmaceutical companies have made mistakes. Citizens have made mistakes.

But you know what? I believe that everybody is trying their best. And doing what they think is right.

There was recently a rally where truckers and other folks concerned about overreaching government mandates for vaccines, social distancing, masks, and so on, drove into our national capital Ottawa and occupied a large area of downtown near the parliament buildings. It was called the Freedom Convoy and they blocked streets with their trucks and for nearly three weeks took over that part of the city. There was horn blaring, rallies, parties, monument desecration, money raising, food kitchens, sign waving, hot tubs, bouncy castles, calls for Freedom, and undoubtedly a sense of brother/sisterhood, solidarity, and exhilaration with sticking it to the man. Similar groups blocked bridges and roads connecting Canada and the US – key arteries responsible for the transport of billions of dollars’ worth of goods. These protests certainly made a point, but also wreaked havoc on the public, causing a huge amount of distress and problems for the wider population. Many provinces had already released plans to discontinue vaccine and mask mandates and most others were in the process of doing so.

After no less than three levels of government failed to address this problem and clear the protest, (proving our country’s weakness and ineptitude) our leaders finally realized that “The right to swing your arms ends just where the other person’s nose begins” and the prime minister enacted an Emergencies Act which enabled the cops to clear the protest within a couple of days, dragging a few people off to jail, but just mainly sending people home.

The protesters were calling for freedom. Which was ironic to many, as the freedoms we’re given in this country are exactly what enabled them to hold such a protest. Such a thing tried in Russia or China or North Korea would have been met with bullets. That is what a lack of freedom looks like.

Interestingly, just days later, Russian troops invaded Ukraine, starting an unprovoked war. Regular Ukrainian people were asked to take up guns and instructed how to make Molotov cocktails, to support their country and resist the invader. Canada has asked its people to take a vaccine, wear masks, and socially distance to repel our invader. An interesting, and perhaps instructive contrast. What does freedom mean? Are we just a bunch of spoiled, rich brats crying over spilled milk?

After these two events, it feels like things have changed. Mandates are coming down and people have decided to live with Covid-19 and the deaths it will bring. But in Canada, I feel like we’ve all done our jobs. The high vaccination rate here and more extensive restrictions has provided us with only one third of the deaths per capita as compared to the US. We should be proud. Sadly, there has been a cost.

The last two years has created a huge array of problems across the country. Small businesses and some entire industries have been decimated, governments are wallowing in debt, people have become unbelievably lazy, kids have missed school and lost critical years of developing social skills, and the debates over vaccines have broken up families and friendships. It is very hard to say what the longer term impacts of this damage will be, but I am sure it will be studied for many years. But with any bad, comes some good. The proven ability to work remotely will pay grand dividends for years to come in the form of reduced carbon emissions, better work/life balance, more adaptation of technology, and a more efficient allocation of resources. And when we do go to the office or school, the old heroic measure of showing up despite being sick with a cold and coughing all over everybody is thankfully no longer socially acceptable. With the use of masks and social distancing, the flu has been almost completely eradicated for two years – who would have ever thought this possible? Lastly, people learned how to slow down and maybe appreciate the simple things a bit more.

I haven’t been journaling much throughout the pandemic, but I thought it was time to take stock of where I’m at with this; where we’re at with this as a family. In the future, we are going to look back to this time and it will be increasing difficult to remember what it was like, and what we were thinking, and what we were feeling.

When I think back to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which has now been with us for 40 years and killed 35 million people, I remember being terrified that I was going to contract HIV, despite never being in a high risk group and taking all precautions. At the start there was no treatments or cure so contracting this disease was a death sentence. Information was thin at first and details were patchy, and sometimes wrong, like when it was reported that only gay men could get it. But as more information became available and more experience was gained, the information gained accuracy. Of course, there was media hype but the media back then was limited to television, magazines, and newspapers. And what you read, you assumed, was true; or at least as accurate as they could get at the time with the information they had. But not once do I remember anybody saying to me, “AIDS is fake. It’s not really a disease. Nobody is actually dying from it. The government is just trying to scare you so they can control you more. Don’t worry about condoms, just eat a good diet, stay healthy, and it can’t get you.” And when therapeutic drugs came along I didn’t hear, “People are crazy to take those drugs, they don’t work. The pharma companies created AIDS so they could sell drugs to fix it. Those drugs will make you impotent.” Maybe these things were being said, but I didn’t hear it. Now we have social media, and there’s little need to point out where that has taken us.

Recently, we met up with some people who we love dearly and had decided against taking the Covid vaccine. Because of this, things have been frosty over the past two years, our get togethers infrequent, and our conversations shallow. It felt like we were never going to be able to have a conversation of substance ever again. How could they be one of “those” people? Didn’t they care about protecting the elderly, weak, and those that were medically unable to take the vaccine? Didn’t they want this to be over? Weren’t they scared by the potential consequences of getting Covid? Why couldn’t they just take the miniscule risk of taking the vaccine just like the rest of us had done? Had they turned into these people who haven’t picked up a book in twenty years, but in the past two years have somehow become virology experts, authorities on health policy, and investigative super sleuths?

We had it out. For 13 hours we stood, sat, leaned, paced, trembled, and raged in our kitchen. We held nothing back. Uncomfortable questions were asked. Accusations were made. Beliefs were challenged. There was face to face screaming, and I mean literally nose to nose. It was glorious. It was therapeutic. But mostly, it was a relief. The night ended (and was interrupted many times) with hugs and kisses. Throughout, we respected each other’s opinions and the challenges came from all sides. It wasn’t always “us against them”. Sometimes it was “us against us” and “them against them” – a sign of a rousing, productive argument.

Here is my belief after hearing all the arguments from what I’ll call the other side for lack of a better term. It is simply about trust. Some of us trust what our governments and health officials have been telling us and we’ve acted accordingly. Some of us do not trust them and have searched out alternate sources of information on which to base our decisions. But when we cannot agree on basic facts, it hurts our democracy and makes it nearly impossible to communicate to each other. This is where we have been the past two years – the majority of the population living in one reality and a minority living in another. Neither of these groups is smarter than the other, or has better access to information, or has better reasons for doing what they are doing. It’s about trust.

In the end, nobody knows the truth and nobody ever will. So let’s not pretend that we can. But we do need to decide how we want to live our lives. Do I want to believe everything the government tells me is a lie because they are trying to control me? Do I reject everything doctors and scientists tell me because they are being paid off by the pharmaceutical companies? Do I refuse to trust all major media sources because they are “in on it”? Do I want to look upon every government statistic with contempt, assuming it is all lies? No. I don’t what to live like that. I can’t live like that. It would turn me into a person that I don’t want to be - distrusting, suspicious, paranoid. But I do need to decide what my reality is. And my reality is this. I believe that democracies are good, but flawed, and fragile, and need to be vigorously defended otherwise they crumble. I believe that democratically elected governments are better than autocratic ones because they are held accountable. I believe that people act primarily in their own self-interest, which means some become corrupt and abuse their power, but I also believe that the vast majority of people feel a sense of responsibility to others and usually try to do the right thing. I believe that people crave certainty, but there is precious little of this in life. Finally, in this age, with a camera and recorder in every pocket, surveillance cameras on every house, a pervasive internet, and an activated public, it is impossible to keep a secret.

At the end of our 13 hour discussion, nobody changed their minds about much. But we all felt heard. And that was something that was long overdue. This is why I feel we are at a turning point. People have been heard. The unvaccinated have been punished for long enough. The vaccinated have done what’s been asked of them. Many thousands of lives have been saved because of Canadians’ efforts in getting vaccinated and masking but we also must admit that the vaccines have not delivered what the government and health officials promised. We are all getting Covid now despite our vaccination status and we are going to have to live with that.

It’s time to move past this and get started on repairing all the damage. Mending our social connections. Going out again and supporting local businesses. Shutting off the goddamn television and putting down the toxic phones. Seeing peoples’ faces again and being happy instead of scared. Letting our kids be kids. And if (when) another more dangerous Covid strain comes along, will the people demand we handle it differently?

We have a lot of work to do. Somebody said getting out of this pandemic is going to be harder than living through it.

Let’s hope not.