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Our capacity for absurdity

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Why is it that society’s most absurd qualities come to the fore at those times when we can least afford to be absurd?

Like now, as we’re all battling the H1N1 flu virus.

Manitoba Health officials announced Thursday there is a real possibility we will see a shortage of flu vaccine for many at-risk people. They ordered tens of thousands of doses, enough to vaccinate the very young, the very old, the very sick and those who care for children, seniors and the sick.

Why the shortage? For reasons completely unknown to any rational person, Manitoba Health has allowed people who are not in a high-risk category to receive a shot if they jump in line at one of the flu vaccine clinics now operating across the province.

Health Minister Theresa Oswald on Thursday appealed to the sensibilities of Manitobans to stay away from the clinics unless they are high risk. She suggested that if people don’t do the right thing, they might have to turn people away.

Really? How could Manitoba Health not have issued that directive at the outset of the vaccination program restricting access to those clinics to those most in need? If it’s a matter of life and death to vaccinate high-risk Manitobans, what possible public health policy or imperative would justify giving it to people who are not high-risk?

This is not a well-designed program. And now, some high-risk Manitobans will go without a vaccine they so desperately needed. Absurd.

Just as absurd as the debate in minor hockey about whether to end the post-game handshake in a bid to control the spread of the flu virus.

At every rink and in every dressing room, people are talking about whether the handshake has been banned, or whether it will be banned. The rumour is that it has already been banned in cities like Edmonton. The only thing they’re not talking about is why anyone wanted to ban it in the first place.

In my off hours, I serve on the board of one of the city’s largest hockey associations. Over the past few weeks, there have been many rumours suggesting the sport’s governing bodies had banned the traditional post-game handshake.

However, when I looked into the matter I found a different story. To date, no one (even in Edmonton) has "banned" the post-game handshake. Hockey Canada, most of the provincial hockey governing bodies, and some city associations, have asked that players keep their gloves on and "bump" or high-five each other rather than shaking hands.

The fallacy in this anecdote should have been easy to spot. First, although there were many rumours that post-game handshakes were going to be banned, there was no suggestion that players were being told to refrain from high-fiving other players on their own bench. The virus is indiscriminate, and there is no science that tells us that opposing players present a greater risk than our own teammates. In fact, given the spitting, coughing and sweating that does on behind the bench, your teammates probably present a greater risk.

(The oddest thing about the rumoured ban on the handshake is that the gross majority of recreational players never take their gloves off when they meet each other after a game. It may be an issue at older age groups, but nobody coaching a team of five and six year olds – who in a group tend to move like a cloud of steam – wants these kids wandering around the ice without their gloves on.)

For the time being, the post-game bump will continue. Parents are being told to dry and disinfect hockey equipment, bring their own water bottles and keep sick children away from the rink. Those are reasonable responses. Ditching the post-game shake is not reasonable, but it also doesn’t seem necessary.

More absurdity. But that is, lamentably, is how we respond to a crisis.

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About Dan Lett

Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school.

Despite the fact that he’s originally from Toronto and has a fatal attraction to the Maple Leafs, Winnipeggers let him stay.

In the following years, he has worked at bureaus covering every level of government – from city hall to the national bureau in Ottawa.

He has had bricks thrown at him in riots following the 1995 Quebec referendum, wrote stories that helped in part to free three wrongly convicted men, met Fidel Castro, interviewed three Philippine presidents, crossed several borders in Africa illegally, chased Somali pirates in a Canadian warship and had several guns pointed at him.

In other words, he’s had every experience a journalist could even hope for. He has also been fortunate enough to be a two-time nominee for a National Newspaper Award, winning in 2003 for investigations.

Other awards include the B’Nai Brith National Human Rights Media Award and nominee for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism.

Now firmly rooted in Winnipeg, Dan visits Toronto often but no longer pines to live there.

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