Editorial

Recovering from COVID-19 has proven to be a difficult task for those who survive the virus’s symptoms.

Recovering from COVID-19 has proven to be a difficult task for those who survive the virus’s symptoms.

Healing the societal rift caused by the pandemic is an altogether different challenge, one that continues to plague the world as governments roll back restrictions designed to protect the people they were elected to serve.

A Free Press/Probe research survey released on March 27 shows how wide the chasm is and how Manitobans will have to mind that gap as much as they have to "live with the virus," as government health officials advise.

The online poll found 87 per cent of respondents believe the divisions sparked by the pandemic will last "a very long time."

Those surveyed were also asked about whether their lives would return to the way things were prior the pandemic, and the result suggests Manitoba has been split into two nearly equal camps. Forty-six per cent of respondents say life will return to how we lived prior to March 2020; 53 per cent believed we will exist in a new normal, in which COVID-19 remains an ever-present threat.

<p>MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson

When the Manitoba government lifted its mask mandate on March 15, both camps were brought together in shopping malls, grocery stores and other indoor public spaces that had previously required face coverings to enter.

The division and unease between the two groups was as plain as the masks — or the lack of them — on shoppers’ faces, with each side of the pandemic divide questioning the decisions of the other.

The entirely predictable result of the removal of mask restrictions — an uptick in positive COVID-19 cases, and entire families once again coming down with virus symptoms — fuels resentment between those who remain cautious and those who act as if the pandemic is over.

One item on which both sides agree, however, is a distrust of how the Manitoba government has responded to the pandemic.

Those who disdain the restrictions believe the government has curtailed their freedom, whether it’s to attend religious services or to not wear masks in restaurants and bars. Those who support maintaining a more cautious approach say the government is too slow to act when cases rise, and too quick to pull back safety measures when positive cases begin to fall.

Any dim light remaining to aid navigation of the COVID–19 road will have been extinguished when the province follows the curtailment of contact tracing with the April 15 closure of its testing sites.

Those concerns returned to the forefront when the province reduced COVID-19 data collection and cut back provision of status reports to weekly rather than on a daily basis, leaving many Manitobans feeling they’re in the dark when it comes to protecting themselves from the virus.

Any dim light remaining to aid navigation of the COVID-19 road will have been extinguished when the province follows the curtailment of contact tracing with the April 15 closure of its testing sites.

The last time the Manitoba government took similar action, in the summer of 2020, the results were disastrous. The province was caught off guard when COVID-19 cases surged later in the year, leading to a deadly pandemic winter of 2020-21 that remains a sad reminder of the pandemic’s peril.

The latest decisions by the provincial government do nothing to stem the latest pandemic wave, or bridge the public divide COVID-19 helped create. Nor does being in a state of apparent denial about COVID-19’s resilience, the stance Premier Heather Stefanson’s government has effectively taken by removing restrictions and closing test centres.

What’s required now is for individual Manitobans to do everything in their power — a challenge, considering paucity of provincially supplied information — to avoid the virus’s latest strain. Perhaps the shared frustration of navigating COVID-19 without government assistance will help bridge the currently gaping pandemic divide.