by Roxanne Tellier
A couple of weeks into the start of the COVID pandemic, I asked my husband if he’d have done anything differently before we entered lockdown, now that we had a little experience with this way of life. We kicked around a few thoughts, but it all being so new, he couldn’t really think of much he could have done to prepare.
We’re pretty low maintenance. We’re retired, have a very small place stuffed with the goods of a lifetime of (my) conspicuous consumption, and really don’t need much to get by. But need is not want, and want is what drives our capitalistic society, which we are all a part of, whether we want to be or not.
The pandemic made me realize that what I missed most about my pre-COVID life was the ability to do the things I had taken for granted – the ability to move through my city freely, meet with friends and family when I wished, stop for a coffee or lunch break without having to check that the location was open, and shopping leisurely without worrying about having to line up for entry first.
Oh, and to find an open public washroom when nature called. That turned out to be one of the little amenities most of us had never had to consider in the past.
I’ve lived in Canada all of my life, and I’ve seen things come and go, as times and society changes. I remember ashtrays affixed to supermarket carts, and when you only had to look up and around to find a clock attached to a wall, or a building, ticking away the hours of our lives. But for all the changes, both good and bad, that I’ve seen, what I’ve never seen is a curtailing of the basic things that keep Canada in the top or near top of “Best Places to Live” in the world.
We take our freedoms and rights for granted, rarely acknowledging how much work has gone into making Canada the free country others envy. Our ancestors mostly chose to leave the evils of their places of birth behind, and instead, to work together to create the society we enjoy today. Decade by decade, election by election, those who came before us made the health and well-being of citizens a priority, and they did it with the politeness that Canadians have always been famous for.
We became a nation of shopkeepers, not a company of merchants. We were the vertical mosaic of different ethnic, language, regional and religious groupings, rather than the melting pot of America, where immigrants are expected to adopt and follow the American way, however it is currently defined. We retained our cultures and beliefs, and in a crisis, Canadians pulled together.
After one year of a global pandemic, the veneer of that civility is wearing thin. Oh sure, we appreciated those who sacrificed to keep us going, in the beginning, but as the months wore on, and as the information meted out to us morphed and changed as new knowledge about the virus was obtained, a lot of us started to show our fangs.
The constraints put upon us, to stay inside, wear a mask, wash your hands, social distance, and get the vaccine when it is available, those strictures that once would have been the only responsible adult choice, have become just too ‘demanding’ for many of us to bear.
After a little more than a year of living under Covid, important lessons have been learned by some countries, and have been completely ignored in others.
“A successful response to Covid-19 turned out to depend on more than a country’s wealth, scientific prowess and history of public health successes. The U.S. enjoys all of these advantages but mounted one of the worst responses to the pandemic: 1 in every 990 Americans has died from Covid-19 since the pandemic began. Bad politics, quite simply, can trump good public health.
Other developed countries that did well initially, such as Canada and some European nations, have faltered during the second or third surge of infections, because their governments and people grew tired of implementing effective strategies. In many Asian countries, it has long been common for people to wear masks when feeling ill, so they adopted masks early and widely. “The Wall Street Journal, January 2021
Taiwan profited from early action, and the provision of intensive financial support to the ill, and to contact tracing, which kept Taiwan to less than 800 cases by the end of 2020.
American Samoa never saw a single case or death from the virus, due to the territory calling a complete halt to all incoming passenger flights. While the 55,000 inhabitants have been isolated from the rest of the world, they have not had to implement any sort of closures, distancing, testing, or strain on their health care.
New Zealand crushed the curve early, first, by being an island better able to enforce travel bans, and secondly, by an aggressive pandemic influenza plan that began in February of 2020. Implementing a country wide lockdown in late March of 2020 essentially eliminated the virus entirely. By June, New Zealand was pandemic free, with only a few cases coming from international travelers, who were kept in quarantine for two weeks post-arrival. Jacinda Arden, the NZ Prime Minister, must be congratulated for her use of clear communication that worked to increase her people’s willingness to cooperate for the betterment of the nation.
Finland, South Africa, and Germany fared well by relying on clear, concise communication, that allowed people to understand their risks, and shoved aside any acceptance of the concept of ‘fake news’ that would confuse their people. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for her citizens to have “patience, discipline and solidarity,” the three essentials to an effective pandemic response.
Many other countries, like Brazil, Moldova, India, Czechia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Bulgaria, have suffered far worse, with thousands of deaths, all while suffering with little modern conveniences or health care to give any comfort.
In Canada, a very large segment of Canadians, a very large and VOCAL segment, did not take much of a financial hit. Those who had a decent job, with benefits, were generally in position to simply move their office into their home, thru the miracle of the internet and ZOOM. In fact, that group is said to have accrued quite a lot of extra money they didn’t expect to have, due to the lack of restaurants to visit, vacations allowed to be taken, and a focus on shopping by mail, rather than in person.
“Scotiabank polled over 1,500 Canadians to learn more about their saving and spending habits since the pandemic began and found that one in four Canadians (25%) have been able to save more because of reduced spending in other areas of their lives. Canadians who are saving more say they are spending less on: eating out (75%), entertainment (81%), clothing and apparel (58%), and commuting costs (41%). Also, more than a third (37%) who are putting more money aside have made saving a priority since COVID-19.”(Scotiabank Newsletter, November 2020)
For the first time in 50 years, I stopped spending about $50 every four weeks to get my hair coloured, and discovered that my ‘real’ hair colour made me look like a cross between a Shih Tzu and Blanche from Golden Girls.
Lots of other people – those whom we call ‘essential’ but pay as if they aren’t – were the human tinder we threw on COVID’s fire. In March of 2020, people all over the world were urged to ‘make some noise’ to honour healthcare workers, by going onto our porches or balconies, or throwing open our windows to cheer, applaud, and bang pots. That lasted a few months, but as time wore on, I guess we just decided we didn’t really care how many of those in the healthcare field were exhausted or dying from having to care for hundreds, then thousands, and eventually, millions, of sick people.
“Hazard pay” for those low on the totem pole, but highly likely to become infected, was discontinued by the fall. We stopped being grateful for those minimum wage earners who staffed the groceries, pharmacies, and Big Box stores, and started demanding that they serve us as though we were management, and they were grovelling for a raise in salary.
We cared about the seniors and sick who were dying by the hundreds, until it meant that the day when we had planned to get a haircut was pushed forward, again and again, until many of us just took the clippers to our manes and had at it, because, really, who would see it when you hadn’t anywhere you were allowed to go?
The herd immunity that initially shocked people by it’s callous cruelty, started to sound good to those who didn’t care how many had to die to get there, as long as it wasn’t themselves, and it meant that they could get out to see a band or a sports match.
For a very short time, some businesses cared about those who were chafing under the pressure, those who made their living doing jobs that barely covered their needs during normal times, now having their hours drastically cut, while still being ineligible for supplements like CERB.
Ontario Hydro lowered their rates, but decided, in the fall, that they’d done enough to help, and that profits over people were more important.
““Last fall, our government introduced customer choice for all Ontario customers; we encourage customers who continue to work from home who are still paying time-of-use electricity rates to consider switching to the tiered rate option, offering a flat rate at all hours of the day,” the spokesperson from the Ministry of Health told Daily Hive.
They added that customers who are unable to pay their electricity bills due to COVID-19 can apply to the COVID-19 Energy Assistance Program (CEAP) through their local utility. We have recently expanded eligibility for the CEAP program and residential customers can now receive up to $750 in direct electricity-bill relief.”The Daily Hive
Rents and mortgage rates, controlled provincially, have been entangled in regulations that have left many wondering if that roof over their head would be there in the near future, and at what cost. Banks upped their rates, eagerly collecting all those one-dollar-a-transaction fees from those being asked to make their purchases with bank debit cards rather than cash.
As the new year dawned, many companies, large and small, raised their prices and rates to reflect that they’d suffered financial losses in 2020, while ignoring the corollary, that their users and buyers had suffered just as much, if not more, in a turbulent economy.
This week, Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford added even more severe restrictions on Ontarians, some of which make little sense, from the standpoint of those in the medical field already coping with a flood of sick patients. Social scientists and medical professionals have called his latest declarations “an abandonment of science and common sense,” and warn that we will see “a completely foreseeable and preventable tragedy play out in this province.”
Like a bad parent, unable to control a wayward child, Ford’s reliance on the ‘grounding’ of citizens is backfiring. Continually backing people into a corner only works for so long, before even the meekest amongst us will come out fighting.
Tippy toeing around the necessity for masking, and waiving fines for the scofflaws not only not masking, but organizing large super spreader events, has made even the most compliant of good citizens show their teeth.
And here’s the problem – we don’t have any answers, any other options. All the things we shoulda coulda done from the onset, including school, business, and airport closings, were off the table from the start in an attempt to appease Big Business, and keep the economy chugging along. 13 months in, the virus has dug deep into the soft under belly of its victims, and thrown off new, even more contagious and dangerous variants. Now, all we can do is hold on tight til the end of the ride.
At this point, there’s little we can do to stop this third wave beyond shutting down non-essential businesses and services, enforcing the necessary health mandates of masking and distancing, and getting ourselves vaccinated as soon as possible.
But I’m growing concerned that our leaders are oblivious to the roiling anger simmering underneath our lip service to containment that prioritized business over people, and the lack of policing of those who openly and publicly advocate and display civil disobedience that may prevent our country from ever completely eradicating this plague.
That, along with the pandemic fatigue that has left so many in pursuit of unrequited self-determination, and the sister pandemic of selfishness, may well be the death of many more of us.
Meanwhile, I’ve discovered that what COVID stole from me, what I miss more than anything else, is the belief that, in a crisis, Canadians would always pull together for the good of their country, and of their fellow Canadians. That’s something that I never thought I’d have to question. But it seems it only took a year of belt-tightening and restrictions to bring out the worst in too many of us.