When you begin to pretend that a pandemic is over at the same as a virus is not only still on the loose, but has spawned even deadlier mutations of itself, you are asking for trouble. And for weeks, case numbers of COVID-19 have been on the rise in British Columbia. So have reported cases of variants from the U.K., South Africa and, most frighteningly, from Brazil, where the P.1 has devastated young people. These variants send people to intensive care twice as often as the original strain of COVID-19, and there is a 60-per-cent higher chance of death.
So it seems unimaginable that the province would maintain a status-quo position on its fairly lax public-health measures amid such a threat. But that’s precisely what it did.
Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s chief health officer, continued to urge people to maintain physical distance from one another, but ahead of spring break, she actually eased restrictions – allowing people to gather in larger numbers. Yet it had been obvious for weeks, if not months, that many people weren’t following her advice. Vaccines are here, after all! The great panic is over!
Friends in the restaurant sector have told me business had been booming since February. Those managing these establishments knew that many of those sitting down at a table weren’t from the same household, but it was never going to be their job to police that. Consequently, party towns like Whistler began to live up to their reputation again. No surprise that the virus began taking off there, too.
There was going to come a point, however, where turning a blind eye to all that was taking place would no longer be acceptable. So with case numbers ballooning to more than 900 a day and setting new records, Dr. Henry realized that her mantra – be kind, be calm, be safe – was not having the same effect it once did. Like students with a substitute teacher, British Columbians just started to ignore her.
On Monday, Dr. Henry joined B.C. Premier John Horgan in announcing a three-week modified lockdown. There will be no indoor dining and no patrons in bars or pubs; pick-up and delivery will be fine, as would outdoor patios. Gyms will be closed except for one-on-one training; retail stores can remain open. They are shutting down Whistler’s ski resort, which likely should have happened weeks ago.
“We need to bend that curve,” said Dr. Henry. Even as she said it, though, one couldn’t help but wonder: What took so long?
People had been warning for weeks that the third wave could be worse than the second. Guess what? The third wave is now worse than the second. Dr. Henry has always sought a balance between keeping people safe and ensuring measures aren’t so restrictive that they prompt a revolt. Consequently, after an initial two-month lockdown last spring, B.C. enjoyed some of the least constrictive public-health safety edicts anywhere in the country.
It came at a price in the fall, when cases and deaths shot up. Dr. Henry would later concede she likely waited too long to slightly tighten protocols in response to rising caseloads. It could be argued – and almost certainly will – that she waited way too long to impose this recent “circuit breaker” in response to the third wave.
The Australian city of Brisbane recently announced a three-day lockdown after seven cases of COVID-19 were discovered; in January, it shut down for three days after a single case was found. In B.C., health authorities waited until more than 900 cases were reported, including deadly variants, on numerous days, before enacting anything that remotely looks like what they did in Australia.
Now, intensive care units are filling up and young people are getting extremely sick from virus variants.
“We cannot blow it now,” Mr. Horgan told a news conference Monday.
The problem is that his government already blew it by not putting the health interests of the public ahead of the interests of the business community.
B.C. is not the only province that has fumbled the third wave. Its government is not the only one that saw storm clouds on the horizon, knew something bad was rolling in and ignored the giant height of the waves about to crash around them.
Dr. Henry is perceived to have been fairly enlightened when it has come to her handling of the virus. And she has done many things well. But surely the good doctor would like to have a mulligan when it comes to the province’s handling of the third wave.
It’s here. It’s ugly. And it didn’t have to be this way.
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