The Price of Freedom

The truckers’ protest convoy may have silent sympathizers. Covid is wearing on all of us. So many simple pleasures that we used to enjoy are now impossible or heavily constrained. This is especially true for those living in densely populated urban areas.

We are social animals. We love to be with family and friends but also to meet new people. We delight in the opportunity for collective experiences at faith gatherings, performing arts, or hockey games.

When covid began we were warned that there could be two or even three waves, but the rapid creation of effective vaccines would be the promised land, dramatically reducing transmission and the seriousness of illness if it occurred.

In mid-November last year numbers were decreasing, and public health officials were discussing the road to a new normal. Then the fourth wave, fueled by Omicron, hit hard and fast. Fast because the vaccines’ resistance to transmission was greatly weakened, and hard because the sheer number of cases meant that weekly deaths approached previous highs due to the sheer number of affected people.

Many who have faithfully followed the guidelines felt somehow cheated, not because they think public health leaders were lying, but because they had promised themselves that things would be great as we entered 2022. A degree of resentment will have taken root in some.

The diminished effectiveness of vaccines gave oxygen to the anti-vax movement, which is skilled at cherry picking data that suits its purpose. Equally harmful are some of the government travel restrictions.

In December community spread was happening everywhere in Canada, with positive tests peakingabove 40,000 a day at year’s end. That would be only a fraction of the total, with many cases not being reported.

Yet the government urged Canadians to travel only for essential purposes, advice widely ignored if the 700,000 Canadians returning in December is any indication. Worse, the government insists on a very recent negative PCR test for people to be granted reentry.

If, instead, they accepted easier to obtain rapid antigen tests, the tiny number of people who would have a false negative test would make no discernible difference in transmission within Canada.

In reality, the government is just trying to inconvenience people. This followed the compulsory hotel fiasco which may have caused as many infections as it prevented.

Meanwhile the United States, where case counts per million are consistently more than double Canada’s, advised its citizens to avoid travel to Canada because of covid risk.

In the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave there is vast resistance to public health measures, sometimes led by elected officials. Declaring a new ‘freedom’ agenda, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill prohibiting mask or vaccine mandates by school boards or employers. He is not alone.

Florida has had over 64,600 deaths due to covid, more than 3,000 per million, compared to 142 in Nova Scotia. Yet DeSantis congratulates himself on his track record, arguing that the economy is strong. To paraphrase Stalin, one death is a tragedy, 64,600 are a statistic.

Canadian political leaders have made mistakes, but none have tried that nonsense. We have a small but vocal minority opposed to public health measures. The current manifestation of that is the convoy of unvaccinated truckers that started in Vancouver and arrives in Ottawa Saturday, picking up additional truckers along the way.

They position the argument as being about freedom, and have appropriated the prochoice mantra “my body, my choice.”

That might be fine if the only consequence for refusing vaccination fell on the unvaccinated. After all, there is no law against dangerous sports like mountain climbing because the only danger is to the participants,

That is not the case for vaccines. Being infected makes a person a potential agent of transmission. Until recently being vaccinated provided strong protection against infection. That protection is weaker against Omicron.

But the protection against severe illness still matters greatly. The unvaccinated are far more likely to end up in hospitals and their intensive care units. The added strain on the health care system jeopardizes the health of thousands of Canadians whose diagnostic procedures and surgeries are being crowded out by patients sick with covid.

Laws and regulations which constrain choices in the name of public safety are ubiquitous and widely accepted. Building codes govern construction. Employers must provide safe workspaces. Speed limits and seat belts make driving safer for drivers and passengers. Do the antivaxxers argue “my truck, my choice”?

The right to peaceful protest should of course be acknowledged and protected. But the convoy has created a platform for more extreme views, including those advocating violence.

Few Canadians who have been compliant up until now are likely to abruptly become radical opponents of government policy. But there is a weariness with restrictions that must be acknowledged.

The clock is ticking. In the next few months we must arrive at the new normal. Covid will still exist, but the ongoing impact of a weakened version with a dynamic vaccine strategy must be something to which we become accustomed.


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