Sacrifices today could save lives tomorrow

“If you don’t think that COVID’s real right now, you’re an idiot.”

That was just one of the many powerful statements made by Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister during an emotional plea last week urging residents in that province not to gather with family and friends at Christmas.

Things are even worse in Alberta, which now has the highest per capita COVID-19 case counts in the country (about five times the Ontario rate).

It’s so bad in Alberta that the provincial government there has asked the federal government and the Red Cross to plan four field hospitals due to the strain placed on the province’s health care system.

The situation is heartbreaking and it’s scary to think Ontario would be facing something similar – and still might – if it was up to  anti-maskers, people flouting other public health guidelines and those downplaying the pandemic.

After Alberta Premier Jason Kenney for months refused to impose restrictions, the province has now introduced some strict control measures. But as the stats there show, it’s too little, too late for a lot of people.

As noted last week by MPP David Shepherd, Alberta’s NDP health critic, “It’s staggering that we are standing here today and talking about the potential of bringing in federal field hospitals, but yet still don’t have something as simple as a provincial mask mandate” (that was expected to come this week).

Many COVID-19 sceptics and conspiracy theorists in this province once praised Alberta for properly dealing with the pandemic by not  infringing on peoples’ “rights,” but it’s now clear the Alberta policy has been an unmitigated disaster.

The same people also once held up Sweden as a great example for its refusal to adopt mandatory restrictions. But Sweden recently reversed its policy in the face of massive spikes in deaths and infections.

Finland and Norway, which very recently imposed new restrictions,  have avoided large-scale lockdowns during the second wave, while also keeping the virus largely at bay. How? With a combination of tight border controls and consensus among politicians and citizens, who overwhelmingly support basic measures like wearing a mask.

In Canada, neither has happened.

Inexplicably, myriad passengers on non-essential international  flights continue to arrive at and depart from Canadian airports daily. And many Canadians, buoyed by champions  of misinformation here (like Derek Sloan and Randy Hillier) and south of the border (notably the outgoing conspiracist-in-chief), continue to mindlessly protest vital safety measures and to spew debunked conspiracy theories.

Closer to home, the majority of recent COVID-19 cases in Wellington County, including massive spikes last month, have been concentrated in the northern portion of the county. You know, the same place where, in September, a small group of anti-maskers flouted public health guidelines and asked Minto council to help overturn restrictions because, according to them, the situation there was all under control.

One of the great ironies of this horrible pandemic is that those protesting government shutdowns are also those unwilling to take the basic steps necessary to prevent them (wearing a mask, distancing, avoiding gatherings and, soon, getting vaccinated). It’s absolutely infuriating for those of us actually heeding the advice of health experts and doing what we can to protect others.

As the Minto example taught us, a lot can change in a few months. That’s why health experts are pleading with Ontarians to skip their traditional Christmas get-togethers and stick to their own households. They say the next few months could be really bad, in terms of cases, deaths and the impact on our healthcare system.

Plus, local officials say, private social gatherings are exactly what is driving the spread of COVID-19 in Wellington County.

We understand a lot people will ignore this holiday advice – the numbers show many obviously did at Thanksgiving – but at the very least people should alter their plans to include shorter visits and fewer people (perhaps separate visits if part of a large family), forgo meals and meet outside or perhaps online.

No one likes shutdowns, restrictions, wearing a mask or missing out on quality time with loved ones. We’re all sick of it. But making an effort now could save lives later and help end this pandemic sooner.

If not for our own families, let’s do it for healthcare workers on the frontlines. Nine months into this pandemic, they’re frustrated, they’re physically and mentally exhausted and, quite frankly, many are on the verge of breaking.

Those brave men and women alter or miss holiday gatherings every single year to look after us.

Maybe it’s time to return the favour.