March 14 was the two-year anniversary of the first case of Covid-19 reported in Newfoundland and Labrador. It was also the day when, despite astronomically high case rates and record deaths, the NL government followed suit with governments all over the country and in many parts of the world in rushing to declare victory over Covid by dropping all public health protections, except the requirement to isolate when positive.
Today is the Ides of March, a day most associated with getting stabbed in the back.
It’s not too fanciful to suggest that many Newfoundlanders feel a Caesar-level sense of betrayal today, even as others are burning their masks, celebrating their freedom, or, somehow (incredibly) still whining about not having enough freedom!!! The elderly, the immunocompromised, anyone else at high risk for severe illness or death from Covid, and people who love people in those categories, may feel that after two years of carefully, cautiously shepherding us through to some of the best pandemic outcomes in North America, our public health leaders have thrown up their hands and stepped away from the whole mess, leaving us on our own.
They may not be actively surrounding us and drawing daggers, but I’ve heard a lot people say “They’re just leaving us to die” in the past couple of weeks. And for a place where, as I wrote last year on the one-year anniversary of the pandemic, we have felt sheltered and protected (and, to be fair, some have felt stifled) for two years, it’s been a shock — and a move widely criticized, as similar moves have been in other parts of the world.
We knew the Danes were reckless and the Brits were reckless and Saskatchewan and Alberta were reckless and, my gosh, don’t even mention the Americans, but — Et tu, Dr. Fitzgerald?
With less testing, less data, and no restrictions, it sometimes feels (to hop metaphors lightly from one literary classic to another) as if we’re taking a reverse Tinkerbell approach to Covid: if we all try really, really hard not to believe in it, it’ll stop existing.
Of course I know it’s more complicated and nuanced than that. The Omicron variant really has been a game changer: a version of Covid so very, very highly contagious and vaccine-resistant that it could only have been controlled by extremely draconian lockdown measures reminiscent of March 2020. This highly contagious variant hitting at a time when pandemic fatigue has peaked and even compliant, fully vaxxed and boosted people are chomping at the bit to get back to normal. Add to that that Omicron is also much less deadly, especially for the vaccinated (seeming, here in highly-vaxxed NL at least, to kill something like 1 in 1000 people who get it rather than about 1 in 100 like Original Flavour Covid — very very rough numbers, obviously).
Put all these factors together, and you’ve got a complicated problem. Would we really have the stomach to accept far harsher measures for a far milder virus, after two years of this? If not, do we just have to roll over and accept that the combination of those factors means that even though the per case death toll is so much lower than with earlier variants, the total death toll is at a level we in NL hadn’t imagined having to live with?
I’ve complained about the way measures are being rolled back (all at once, rather than gradually with time to test the impacts) as much as the next person, but I recognize these are extremely tough decisions. It’s easy to suspect political factors played as much of a role as public health guidance, and I’m sorry to see the mask mandate and widespread testing/reporting dropped so quickly. At the same time, even when I disagree with aspects of the decisions, I am relieved to know that our government is quick to move away from rules that place a lot of restrictions on individual freedom. They are not, in fact, as the convoy protestors and others have claimed for two years, actually setting the stage to take away all our rights and subject us to total government control. In fact they seem to be a little too eager to give us back those rights and the protections that went along with them.
Still, it’s always nice to realize you’re not living in a creeping totalitarian dictatorship. Just hope the alternative is not a plague-riddled dystopian nightmare.
All this to say, I find myself on the two-year anniversary of Covid with much more mixed emotions than I felt at the one-year anniversary, when the end seemed in sight and it was possible to be largely appreciative of how our government had taken us through it.
Clearly, two years in, our lives are nothing like “back to normal,” nor is the old 2019 version of “normal” anywhere in sight. We are left to move forward into whatever the rest of 2022 holds relying more on each other, on those bonds of community that have been so stretched and frayed in the past twenty-four months, rather than on a benevolent governmental hand at the helm.
I’ve definitely lost control of my metaphors again, but here we are.
Beware the Ides of March. Don’t listen to every soothsayer, but don’t ignore them all either — and always watch your back. And your neighbour’s back, too.