By Ian Pattison
News on the COVID-19 front could hardly be more mixed this week. Amid the usual push-and-pull between opening and lockdown, between safety and business survival, between mental health and children’s education, we’ve seen some positive developments.
Foremost among them is Friday’s announcement from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that
pharmaceutical giant Pfizer will fulfil its promise to deliver four million doses of its Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by the end of March and will ship a further 10.8 million doses ahead of schedule between April and June. All of the remaining doses of Canada’s 40-million total order will be here by the end of September, Trudeau said.
Ottawa has been unwilling to tell Canadians what we’re paying for not just the vaccines, but for upgrades in delivery timelines as every country on Earth competes for doses from a handful of approved manufacturers. The bill down the line might be a shocker, but not paying it would be disastrous.
Trudeau has faced criticism for shipment delays that are by now largely beyond his control so this will appease some of that concern. The PM will also be hoping it serves to boost his standing among the nearly six-in-ten Canadians who say the Liberal government has done a poor job of securing vaccine doses for the population. Keep this in mind amid growing speculation about a spring election.
But wait, there’s more. Beyond Pfizer, the federal government has purchased four million additional doses of the Moderna vaccine which will be arriving over the summer.
In all, Canada will get 84 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines by the end of September, the prime minister said. So it looks like his promise that anyone who wants a jab by that time will get it, though for now, only about a quarter of Canadians believe it.
What about the time in between? Canadians keep experiencing a distressing pattern of ups and downs in cases in their communities as the pandemic’s second wave creeps through cracks in government policies that are literally all over the map.
Ontario had begun a gradual reopening of its economy by lifting the stay-at-home order for three eastern regions with low caseloads. On Friday, the province announced that 27 more public health regions will return to the colour-coded restrictions system Tuesday. That’s when Thunder Bay and district will move to Red or ‘Control’ status.
Ontario may be making a big mistake here as mutations of the virus accelerate, though no such cases are yet confirmed locally. According to a member of the government’s own science advisory group, an apparent slow decrease in overall case numbers appears to be stalling due to rapid growth in variant cases estimated to already comprise between 5 and 10 per cent of infections.
Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, dean of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, said Thursday that an aggressive vaccination campaign and maintaining stay-at-home order are essential if we are to avoid a third wave and a third lockdown.
A total of 442,441 doses of vaccine have been administered in the province with a population of 14 million people. (And remember, we need two doses per person of the currently approved vaccines.)
Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisers are warning against the government’s intention to lift the stay-at-home order, as new modelling shows more contagious variants of the virus could cause 5,000 to 6,000 infections a day by the end of March.
To control the new variant, Dr. Brown told The Globe and Mail’s Jeff Gray, Ontario would have to reduce the virus’s reproduction rate to a level even lower than the province has achieved with its current harsher lockdown. And yet here we go, easing up.
The U.K. variant has reached Northeastern Ontario but for the moment, Thunder Bay district cases are limited to the original strain -- which rose by more than 20 for the second day in a row Friday to hit 126. By Saturday there were another 32 infections for a total of 143 cases. Two patients are in the regional hospital including one in intensive care. Institutional cases involve the district jail and correctional centre and another long-term care home. Cases are popping up in elementary and high schools.
And guess what? It’s Family Day and Valentine’s Day weekend. How many COVID-weary people will throw off their good behaviour and mingle with family and sweethearts?
Ontario’s Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, this week postponed March Break for schools until April 12. The move is intended to curb the spread of COVID-19 among children travelling or mixing outside classrooms. This suggests the government fears a repeat of the Christmas holidays when many people travelled to see family and friends against all the advice from health experts to stay home.
The March Break postponement is opposed by teachers unions and the Opposition NDP, who say educators and students need time off. Weary parents too, but lockdowns work because they’re difficult, not because they’re easy.
Can we trust politicians now lifting restrictions to have such close control of the pandemic as to react quickly enough to re-institute strict procedures in time to ward off spikes in infections, let alone emergence of variants in places that have so far kept them out? That’s what Ontario is promising to appease mostly business owners who are rightly angry at the government for a continuing back-and-forth approach that has extended the pandemic, not stopped it.
Many people are glum these days, what with an extreme cold warning on top of the COVID lockdown. Here’s a bit to brighten your day.
A fellow named Lawrence Anderson posted the following on Facebook Wednesday:
If you live in Port Arthur and need a boost I can help you out FREE of charge.
I'm sure tow company's and CAA are swamped so I have a couple hrs to help people out.
Send a pm if you need a hand with this.
Thank you and stay warm.”
Thank you Lawrence simply for being a nice guy.
Now, not everyone’s been so nice this week. On Thursday, just ahead of the Family Day long weekend, with Valentine’s Day tossed in for good measure, a bunch of local gas stations did what their owners always do in advance of holidays. They hiked their prices enormously.
The price per litre of regular gas went from $120.0 at almost every station in Thunder Bay to $129.9. Is there a station owner who might care to tell us why?
Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.