By Hana Hoffman, SFU Student
Do the new COVID-19 measures make sense?
There are many different sources that provide the country with information on COVID-19. In some cases, announcements about COVID-19 from different officials and politicians contradict each other. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer, is talking about bivalent vaccines and staying up to date with booster shots. Meanwhile, the government dropped COVID-19 border requirements for anyone entering Canada. On one end, the message is to stay vigilant. On the other hand, it appears Canada is dropping their guard against COVID-19. How is the population supposed to stay informed when the government and public health officials are taking two very different approaches?
On September 26, the Government of Canada announced they would drop multiple COVID-19 measures related to the border, masks, and vaccines on October 1st. However, hospitalizations this year are largely higher than 2020 or 2021. New variants that are better at evading immunity make us question the abandoned precautions. Canada is in a new phase of the ongoing pandemic, but many have asked why we are lifting restrictions on social media in light of the evolving situation. Twitter’s “#BringBackMasks” hashtag speaks on why mask-wearing and booster shots are still necessary for personal and public safety, especially as we shift into the flu season.
Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix discussed their strategy to keep COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations as low as possible through the flu season. But isn’t this contradictory? They’re saying they need to prepare for a rise in cases while not providing preventative principles to do so. If they had determined it was safe to stop COVID-19 precautions, why should there be concern for the rising cases? This summer already saw BC’s emergency rooms struggle with staff shortages and closures. This is causing confusion.
It was recently reported that Dr. Henry knowingly downplayed the threat of COVID-19 transmission in schools. So how are we supposed to trust the current guidelines are in the best interest of our health?
Since the pandemic began, the Government of Canada has gone from requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test and a two-week quarantine to requiring travellers to use the ArriveCan app prior to entry. This app was originally used to compile data from travellers entering Canada, to verify their vaccination status.
Now, they have dropped all restrictions to allow people to cross the border without the ArriveCan health declaration, proof of vaccination, random testing, and quarantine or isolation. In addition, health checks and masks are no longer mandatory on trains, flights, and cruises. In March 2020, the idea of isolation to help slow down the spread of the virus and make COVID-19 tracing much easier was introduced to the public — we now know isolation and mass testing are proven strategies to reduce transmission.
Throughout the past year, the Omicron variant dominated the majority of infections. As COVID-19 mutated, vaccines became less effective against this new variant. Measures like reinstating the requirement for negative PCR results for travellers, as well as almost doubling on-arrival testing were taken. This constant back and forth, switching from semi-lockdowns to calms, has caused those affected the most by the pandemic to lose trust in the public health officers and compromised the ability for the general population to stay informed.
The House of Commons health committee is preparing for a possible mutant that could dodge all current vaccines. Transmission and infection is one of the dangers of a constantly mutating virus, as current COVID-19 vaccines do not grant sterilizing immunity, therefore we can still transmit and be infected with COVID-19.
The consequences don’t end at a COVID-19 infection. Those who didn’t present any symptoms while infected might still develop long COVID — which causes long-term symptoms experienced weeks or even months after first getting sick. This causes a different set of issues than the flu-like symptoms of COVID-19. Long COVID can affect the organs and the immune system long-term. It is capable of affecting people of all ages, regardless of previous health and vaccination status. CTV News interviewed Adriana Patino, someone who has suffered from lung damage, heart damage, and fatigue after her infection. Even as a former 37-year-old competitive swimmer with a healthy lifestyle, she still needs treatments and therapy.
Canada’s public health services state there is no cure for long COVID at the moment, and Statistics Canada has counted almost one and a half million adults in Canada experiencing this. Plus, it is predicted that out of everyone who has gotten the virus, between 10–20% of them are prone to acquire long-term conditions, according to the World Health Organization.
Whether or not Canadians are aware of how likely it is to suffer from long COVID, the government should consider informing them — and easing restrictions would do the opposite of trying to prevent it.
Why did the government suddenly drop all of these precautions and make it seem like we are now safe from the virus? Especially when at the same time, other health officials are warning us about possible new waves and variants. How do they expect the population to listen to their advice and recommendations? This causes continuing confusion and mixed feelings for the public. Many are tired of having to follow restrictions after being in this situation for almost three years, and it doesn’t help if the government isn’t clear or transparent about the pandemic. Canada needs to prioritize a strategy that includes clear communication, information to the public, and measures to truly protect the public.