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A traveller drops off their baggage at Toronto Pearson International Airport, on Dec. 16, 2021.Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press

You’d think two years into this thing, we’d be better prepared for a new strain of COVID-19 to emerge.

It’s not like infectious disease experts haven’t been saying for months that we’re not out of the woods. That a new variant could emerge to derail everything. You’d think after all the previous pandemic policy misfires that someone, somewhere, might have been working on a plan to better deal with another wave – one fuelled by a variant that was more transmissible than the others before it. You know, a little forward planning just in case.

And yet here we are, a fifth wave beginning to wash over us and the collective response in this country is chaos and confusion. While some people are screaming: “Run for the hills!!! It’s Omicron!!!” you have others, such as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, easing restrictions for Christmas. Now up to 10 vaccinated and unvaccinated persons can gather under one roof.

You’d think he might have learned from the public health disaster he incited last summer by effectively declaring the pandemic over. But no.

A country such as Canada just isn’t designed to be a coherent, rational entity during this kind of crisis. You effectively have 10 separate countries (and three territories) doing their own thing, often contradicting what their provincial counterpart is doing right next door.

Rapid testing is a good example.

We have a lot to learn about COVID-19 immunity

A national booster-shot campaign is needed to beat Omicron – but by itself, it won’t be enough

Alberta announced this week that it is making hundreds of thousands of rapid antigen test kits available for free over the next few weeks. This follows similar action by Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan. Ontario is also now doing the same, making them available for free at liquor stores no less. B.C., meanwhile, reportedly has millions of unused rapid tests in storage – frustrating public health experts as the province remains behind others in rolling them out to the public. So far, it’s mainly those in long-term care and assisted-living facilities getting access to them.

At the same time, most premiers are urging people to be careful over the holidays and avoid large gatherings and contact with anyone who isn’t vaccinated. But by all means, buy a ticket to an NHL game being held in your city and join 20,000 other people in screaming as loud as you can for the home team.

Come on. What are we doing here? Keep to small groups but attending hockey games and concerts are fine. That makes no sense at all.

We know Omicron is already in our communities. We know its transmission rate is far greater than that of the Delta variant. And now Ottawa is advising against all but essential travel abroad? I mean, better late than never, but it feels a bit after the fact. It didn’t impose any restrictions on people entering from other countries (except many from Africa) – something many had been urging.

So, Canadians don’t leave. Foreigners, make yourself at home.

Except the federal Conservatives. They’re saying they will travel abroad internationally if they feel like it. They’re not going to cancel their Christmas trips to exotic, warm locales. Let the plebes do that.

Clearly, our political leaders, federal and provincial, don’t want another lockdown. The economy has come roaring back in most places and they don’t want to stall that. We get the imperative. But they need to level with people about the consequences of their decisions.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control is saying Omicron is “very likely” to increase the death toll in Europe. The virus’ increased transmissibility far outweighs the fact it is potentially less severe. More people will get it, which means more people will likely die from it than was the case with other iterations of COVID-19. New modelling released Thursday by the Ontario COVID-19 Science Table warned that there could soon be 10,000 new cases a day unless greater public health restrictions are introduced immediately.

One of the key weapons to fight Omicron is booster shots. Ontario has just announced that anyone 18 and over can get boosters. Same with Saskatchewan. In Alberta, it’s anyone 50 and over. In B.C. it’s just people 65 and over. And even then, some who qualify (six months since your second shot) have been waiting weeks with no invitation to get a jab. What a country we live in. It seems pretty evident we’re better off with more of the population triple vaccinated, and yet you look around and just scratch your head.

My advice to the public is this: Use common sense and be careful. Because basically, you’re on your own.

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