It’s time to choose civility over conflict

Manitoba entered the last stage — at least, according to our provincial government — of the pandemic on Tuesday. Public-health orders have been terminated, masks are no longer mandated and the pandemic response system has been downgraded to a bright green circle. Life is finally getting back to normal.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/03/2022 (198 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Manitoba entered the last stage — at least, according to our provincial government — of the pandemic on Tuesday. Public-health orders have been terminated, masks are no longer mandated and the pandemic response system has been downgraded to a bright green circle. Life is finally getting back to normal.

Except that it isn’t, really.

There are still more than 5,000 active COVID-19 cases in the province, and Manitoba’s test-positivity rate is above 15 per cent. Gathering with others, going grocery shopping and attending public events still presents a very real health risk.

Premier Heather Stefanson publicly acknowledged this fact in a media conference earlier this week, when she said she would continue wearing a mask while running errands.

In response to easing restrictions, Doctors Manitoba has urged the public to continue taking a cautious approach to the virus. Hospitals are still strained, thousands of surgeries and diagnostic procedures remain in limbo and the risk of serious complications from contracting COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere.

The organization, which represents more than 4,000 physicians across the province, has even started its own pandemic landing page, with recommendations to continue wearing a mask in public and to stay home when ill.

While fewer restrictions may make it easier to eat at a restaurant or take in a hockey game, the goal of returning to a pre-pandemic “normal” isn’t realistically achievable when we are still very much living in a pandemic. The idea also alienates a huge segment of the population who are immunocompromised or living with an increased risk of severe outcomes if they catch the virus.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / FREE PRESS FILESManitoba Premier Heather Stefanson

Without government-imposed restrictions, businesses have, yet again, been placed in the tricky spot of deciding whether they will get rid of mask and vaccination rules or stay the course. As we’ve seen in the past, an ad-hoc approach exposes business owners and staff to the potential for online and in-person abuse from would-be customers.

Individuals must now grapple with the same question: to mask or not to mask. Over the last two years, masks have become a deeply divisive topic. While some see the face coverings as a way to protect themselves and others from spreading a dangerous virus, others see them as a symbol for government overreach and infringement on personal freedoms.

Regardless of one’s opinion, the decision to wear a mask or not is now largely a personal choice, and it should be respected as such. This transition will be a lot smoother with a little kindness.

In the coming days and weeks we will see neighbours, friends and colleagues making their own choices. It may be jarring to some to see maskless folks in public places, and it may be frustrating to others to see masked people going about their day when the rules no longer require them.

Except in the limited settings in which they continue to be required, someone else’s choice regarding mask use is now none of your business.

Except in the limited settings in which they continue to be required — health-care facilities, for instance, and businesses whose owners have opted to maintain mask requirements, as is their right — someone else’s choice regarding mask use is now none of your business.

Someone may choose to continue wearing a mask because they have a relative with cancer at home, or because they’re the primary caregiver for a child with a disability. Someone may choose to stop wearing a mask because they no longer want to. Neither party is required to explain their choice, and neither party is required or encouraged to police the personal choices of the other.

In the coming days and weeks, let’s choose civility over conflict, and respect over derision. We may be heading into new territory, but we still need to live together.

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