COVID is back for the seventh time. Doctors are warning that our health system could collapse -- because we don't have enough people to staff it. Kwame McKenzie writes:
Early in the pandemic, we were told we were at war with COVID-19. Our initial plans to combat the virus made sense. We deployed an emergency response because we were not sure what we were dealing with, and we needed to contain a potentially catastrophic situation. Testing, tracing, isolation, distancing, mask mandates, lockdowns and vaccination were used to halt the spread the pandemic and ensure that it did not get out of control. Because of this, and the remarkable efforts of the Canadian people, we saved tens of thousands of lives.
But now our strategy makes less sense.
We have ditched the precautionary principle and are not deploying our most effective countermeasures, despite the fact that we are still unsure what the virus is going to do next — and despite mounting evidence that the situation is now catastrophic. There will be 20,000 to 30,000 COVID-19 deaths in Canada this year. Extrapolating from a U.K. study, we can estimate hundreds of thousands of Canadians will contract long COVID.
COVID-19 hugely increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, dementia, mental health problems and other chronic diseases. Herd immunity will not happen. You can be reinfected. Vaccination may protect you from severe impacts, but has not prevented virus spread. And, perhaps most worrying, the risk of negative health impacts may increase each time we are infected. So, the current rates of death, hospitalization, long COVID and chronic health problems could rise significantly over time. We also do not know the long-term impact of reinfection on children.
Ramping up our emergency response in the face of the next wave will save lives and protect hospitals, while leaving us vulnerable to all the others impacts of COVID-19.
Recent polls indicate that Canadians don't want to go back to mask mandates. What's to be done?
One way of decreasing divisions is by increasing people’s inclusion in decision-making. Including the public in policy discussions could help us develop a more rational pandemic strategy. People are more likely to support collective action once they have had their say and feel they have been heard.
Questions for a public discussion could include: Are we happy to be reactive, or do we want to try to take more control? Should we focus on the here and now, or should we take precautions to decrease the likely long-term impacts of sequential infection? Should the focus be on severe impacts, or should we also consider long COVID? Are we happy to focus on protecting hospitals and business, or do we want to add schools and the way the virus is damaging our primary care and social sector? The aim would be to have a transparent democratic discussion about decisions which may have a profound impact on our future.
We are currently being asked to be part of a “living with COVID-19” strategy — a plan which cannot beat the virus, will lead to significant casualties and may blight our future. We may want to consider a more forward-thinking strategy. We should be given the opportunity to help decide to what extent we should fight back.
A top-down strategy worked the first time around. Now we'll have to work from the bottom up.
Image: The Toronto Star