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NP View: No more lockdowns

Even with new variants emerging, renewed enthusiasm for harmful lockdowns are a greater danger

A travel advisory is displayed on a sign over the Don Valley Parkway in Toronto on March 28, 2020.

Winter is coming — and this year, Canadians have more to fear than falling temperatures and icy roads. As it was last year, millions are looking at the months ahead with trepidation, worried that rising case counts and increased strain on the health-care system will result in another round of lockdowns and school closures, which will ruin their livelihoods and disrupt their children’s education. Further restrictions should be avoided at all costs.

Individuals and businesses, especially after an exhausting 21 months, are perfectly capable of assessing risk and calibrating their behaviour without state dictates. What we need from our federal and provincial governments is a strong commitment to implement public health measures that have minimal impact on personal liberties, and avoid costly shutdowns of our economy and education systems.

The main advantage Canada has compared to over a year ago is that the majority of the population now has some immunity against the virus, thanks to vaccines that have been administered to nearly 80 per cent of the eligible population. Meanwhile, Health Canada’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine for children five and up has allowed the provinces to quickly ramp up their pediatric vaccination campaigns.

These are encouraging trends that will reduce the spread of the virus and lessen its impact on our health-care system.

While vaccines remain the most effective means of reducing the spread and severity of the virus, evidence suggests their effectiveness wanes after five or six months. There are also concerns that the Omicron variant — first reported by South Africa last week and soon found in numerous countries, including Canada — may do a better job of evading existing vaccines and reinfecting those who have recovered from COVID.

Both Pfizer and Moderna have said they could produce Omicron-specific versions of their vaccines within around 100 days, if necessary. In the meantime, the best we can do is offer booster shots to as many people as possible. As was the case in our initial vaccine roll out, however, Canada has been slow off the mark.

Israel has been offering boosters to anyone over 16 since August; the United States is now recommending them for all adults who received their second shot six months ago; and the United Kingdom is offering a third dose a mere three months after the second.

In Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization has been slow to offer any advice on the subject, waiting until Friday to recommend boosters for those over 50, and for those over 18 depending on where they live and their level of personal risk. Manitoba was already offering third doses to anyone over 18, while British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario are currently only making them available to older adults, front-line workers and at-risk individuals. Alberta will offer boosters to anyone over 18 after older populations have had their shot.

While we endorse governments offering booster shots, or third doses, as soon as possible, we oppose mandating them, which would be not only intrusive and unnecessary, but, as we have seen with existing mandates, divisive.

It is unfortunate that Canada’s brittle socialized health-care system has proven unable to deal with spikes in COVID-19 cases, but here too, there are steps governments can take to lessen the strain on hospitals.

For example, new antiviral drugs produced by Pfizer and Merck have been shown to dramatically reduce the risk of severe illness in those who have been infected. While neither has yet to be approved by regulators, the race is on to procure them. The Biden administration in the U.S. has already ordered a total of 13 million courses of the two drugs. Unsurprisingly, the Trudeau Liberals are lagging far behind, announcing on Tuesday only that the government is in talks with the companies.

We have also failed to secure enough monoclonal antibody cocktails , which were used to treat former U.S. president Donald Trump when he contracted the virus, and have for months been used to effectively treat patients south of the border. Here at home, doctors have complained they don’t have adequate supplies of these treatments and that access to them varies widely across the country.

Which is frustrating. A year ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “We have the power to get this second wave under control” by using all the “tools in the toolbox.” But he failed to use even simple tools like widespread rapid testing (which Canada still seems to have a misplaced aversion to), and Canadians faced a winter of economically devastating lockdowns and school closures.

We now have even more options, but instead of focusing on procuring and deploying them, Trudeau has been wasting his time obsessing about the small number of Conservatives who aren’t vaccinated and forcing a draconian and largely unhelpful vaccine mandate on the public service.

This has become a pattern. Since the start of the pandemic, the Liberals have consistently dragged their feet on less-intrusive infection control measures within their jurisdiction, instead waiting until the provinces feel they have no choice but to use blunt instruments such as lockdowns, and then spending vast sums of money to support affected individuals and businesses. This cannot continue indefinitely.

Canadians are mature enough to make their own decisions on how to deal with COVID. Even with new variants emerging, renewed enthusiasm for harmful lockdowns are a greater danger.

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