WEATHER ALERT

Sorry, kids; it’s not personal, it’s politics Stefanson & Co. have decided sick children, collapsing health-care system not as important as placating mandate opponents

It really comes down to punctuation.

Read this article for free:

or

Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe with this special offer:

All-Access Digital Subscription

$4.75 per week*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on winnipegfreepress.com
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles
Continue

*Pay $19.00 every four weeks. GST will be added to each payment. Subscription can be cancelled anytime.

Opinion

It really comes down to punctuation.

Late last winter, political leaders across Canada giddily announced they were finally removing the last of the pandemic vaccine and mask mandates.

Some places continued to enforce watered-down mandates, but for the most part, it was the end of active, invasive measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. “We need to move forward,” Premier Heather Stefanson said in February.

Period, end of sentence.

However, what has become patently apparent now is that the period Stefanson used at the end of that sentence really should have been a comma, so that she could have said “…and, if necessary, we will consider re-introducing mandates depending on the threat to public health and the health-care system.”

But there was no comma and, thus, no caveat.

And that brings us to right now, when a trio of viral threats — COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) — is claiming lives and threatening to overwhelm the hospital system. Despite this clear and present danger, Stefanson is resisting calls from physicians for a resumption of the indoor mask mandate.

Late last week it was reported the Children’s Hospital ER at Health Sciences Centre was under siege, and the pediatric ICU was overflowing from a sudden surge in RSV.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Late last week it was reported the Children’s Hospital ER at Health Sciences Centre was under siege, and the pediatric ICU was overflowing from a sudden surge in RSV.

Combined with alarming forecasts of pandemic-level viral infections this winter, numbers like this should be a call to arms for Stefanson and public-health officials. Unfortunately, the Progressive Conservative government is, once again, doing nothing.

Last week, Stefanson did encourage Manitobans to mask up in public, stay home when sick and get vaccinated. But her government has no solution for extremely low uptake of the most recent generation of COVID-19 booster shots and has shown little to no interest in the reinstatement of a mask mandate.

“For right now, we’re not looking at any mask mandates,” Stefanson said last week at a health-care announcement. “I encourage people who are maybe feeling a little under the weather, please protect others.

“Do wear a mask if you’re out and about in public and make sure you’re protecting others, and particularly our health-care workers.”

What is most alarming about the premier’s statement is that it’s exactly the same language used by the government while it dithered over whether to introduce public-health restrictions and in so doing, earned the dubious distinction of having among the worst COVID-19 infection and death rates in North America.

The nearly three years we have been battling COVID-19 should have left us with two fundamental truths: first, that pandemic-level illness is destined to a constant threat in our future lives; and second, it’s essential to impose simple preventative measures, including mask mandates, as soon as possible when an outbreak appears to be gathering momentum.

Stefanson is hardly alone in ignoring both.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

The Stefanson government has no solution for extremely low uptake of the most recent generation of COVID-19 booster shots and has shown little to no interest in the reinstatement of a mask mandate.

The nation’s first ministers and their senior public-health advisers all seem to be resisting the re-introduction of mask mandates. It’s not that they think wide-scale masking isn’t required. On the contrary, they do want people to mask up, they just don’t want to force anyone to do it.

When it comes to issues of public health, if it’s important enough to strongly recommend, it’s important enough to be the subject of a legal mandate. Particularly when you realize that it’s the best way we can avoid having to contemplate a total lockdown.

Even though closing schools, stores and other facilities and cancelling public events no doubt saved countless lives during the worst parts of the pandemic, the negative social impacts cannot be ignored.

But this has never been a choice solely between total lockdown and no restrictions whatsoever.

We’ve always had the option to implement less-disruptive restrictions earlier in an outbreak to not only save lives, but lessen the need for a lockdown. Restrictions that keep people safe but still allow them to go to the mall, the gym, get a haircut, attend movies and concerts or watch our kids play sports.

However, a timely and balanced approach has always seemed to be just outside the grasp of the province. No matter how much advice experts outside of government provided, and how many people were dying, Manitoba was often late to introduce mandates and quick to get rid of them.

Even though closing schools, stores and other facilities and cancelling public events no doubt saved countless lives during the worst parts of the pandemic, the negative social impacts cannot be ignored.

It’s also quite remarkable that, as has been the case throughout the pandemic, the current strategy being embraced by the provinces runs against the grain of pubic opinion. A recent CTV poll showed that 70 per cent of Canadians would support mandates if there was a clear and present threat to public health. As there is today.

If none of that is persuasive, then let’s do a direct comparison between magnitude of the public-health threat and the potential impacts of the solution.

On the one hand, we’ve got desperately sick children struggling with life-threatening viral infections and a hospital system on the verge of collapse.

On the other hand, you have a political reluctance to force anyone to get wear a mask.

Seriously ill children and crippled hospitals versus mandatory masks. For anyone who is even remotely sensible and empathetic, it’s not a very difficult choice.

dan.lett@winnipegfreepress.com

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

Report Error Submit a Tip