The End Of Mandatory Covid Restrictions Will Not End Differences Of Opinion

On Monday Nova Scotia will conclude a journey that began two years less a day  ago, when the State of Emergency was first announced. It is a journey that we have travelled together with our families, with our friends and neighbours, with other Nova Scotians, with other Canadians, with everyone on the planet.

In the beginning very little was known. A novel virus which could cause serious illness and death was spreading rapidly around the globe. There were no vaccines that could prevent it and no therapies that could reliably provide relief.

Nor was it immediately obvious how the disease was transmitted. Gradually, a set of practices to limit spread was identified: limiting social contact, social distancing, quarantines, hand washing, masks. Non-essential businesses and services were shut down. Online shopping became the norm.

Work on vaccines began almost immediately. There were dozens of candidates, each needing to be rigorously tested for efficacy and safety. Most failed to pass one of the testing stages, but a number succeeded and were approved about a year after the virus was clearly identified. They were effective both in limiting spread and reducing severity of illness for those who became infected. Manufacturing capacity was ramped up.

A second wave began in late 2020 and another in the spring of 2021. In Canada and other wealthy countries vaccinations became widely available in the first half of 2021, requiring two doses spread months apart. When a fourth wave began in August it was less severe than the first three, proof of the value of vaccines.

Just when many thought we were on the way to safety, the Omicron variant appeared and changed the rules. Vaccines are much less effective in limiting its transmission. Fortunately, it is less severe than the Delta variant it displaced, and the vaccines are still effective in limiting Omicron’s severity.

Case numbers are much higher than the early variants but the infections are often mild. Many people have had asymptomatic infections without knowing it. In Nova Scotia the combination of vaccination and acquired immunity has persuaded Dr. Strang and Premier Houston to remove all restrictions starting Monday.

Reactions range from “It’s about time!” to “We’re not ready!!” and everything in between. Some will continue to wear masks whenever they are out of the home. Others plan to party likes it’s 2019.

The division of opinion includes expert epidemiologists such as Dr. Lisa Barrett, who feels that we know too little about where the virus is headed.

Clearly, this is a matter on which people can differ. What matters is to recognize that having different reactions is normal. It is not that one is right and others are wrong. Well-informed and reasonable people can have a broad spectrum of reactions to the choices made by public health and political leaders.

How those leaders conduct themselves is important. It is unfortunate when they fail to acknowledge that they are dealing with the uncertainty of navigating uncharted territory.

It is bad when they politicize the choices. In Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau has implemented needlessly punitive measures affecting travel as part of his search for wedge issues. Premier Jason Kenney of Alberta has often ignored the advice of his medical team in the name of “freedom.”

It is worse south of the border. Some Republican governors use their choices to highlight differences with the Biden administration.

In federally regulated Florida airports, there are signs and announcements that masks are to be worn at all times, with risk of fines and expulsion for non-compliance. In contrast, Florida Governor DeSantis has forbidden mask mandates for businesses and schools. He recently berated high school students for choosing to wear masks.

In Nova Scotia, Strang and Houston have acknowledged the diversity of people’s views.

Going forward, some will still frequently wear masks, avoid being in large groups, shop in person only if the stores are not busy, and choose to dine only at outdoor restaurant tables.

Others will be totally uninhibited. They will especially enjoy, for the first time in two years, the close collective experiences that have been absent at plays, concerts, sporting events, and faith gatherings.

Over those two years differences in how we respond to the pandemic have sometimes led to bruised or broken relationships with friends or family members. The end of restrictions as guideposts will create greater opportunity for argument.

We must be willing to acknowledge the validity of another person’s perspective without having to change our own. We must master the art of disagreeing agreeably.


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