What a Difference a Year Makes


by Roxanne Tellier

On January 25th, 2020, a Toronto man returning from Wuhan, China was the first presumptive COVID-19 case in Canada. By March, with the disease raging across Canada, the World Health Organization had declared COVID a pandemic, the NBA, NHL and most other sport leagues had suspended their seasons, while the Olympics were officially postponed to 2021, the Juno Awards were cancelled, Parliament went on break, and schools began to close from coast to coast.  

We went from zero to 60 in a matter of weeks, and many, many mistakes were made as countries and organizations began to try to manage this novel, and extremely frightening, attack on our health and ways of life. 

We began a global journey through a once-in-a-lifetime experience, which had much in common with the blindfolded fumblings of Sandra Bullock in the film Bird Box;   it’s a miracle either saga finally found a respite in which to take a deep breath, and you just know there’s still a further twist to the tale, which will involve yet more monsters.    

Mistakes were made. Many, many dumb and well-meant mistakes were made, by many very smart and well-meaning people. Remember when Dr Fauci told Americans that they didn’t need to wear face masks? As it turns out, that was because there were severe shortages of the personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to keep healthcare workers on the front line of hospitals safe. Some nurses and doctors had to resort to wearing plastic bags instead of proper gear, to try and protect themselves, and many died while trying to save the sick.

Sadly, experts like Fauci and the U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams knew that the same Americans emptying stores and hoarding toilet paper and hand sanitizer were likely to put masks on the ‘must have’ list, further endangering those health care workers. Were Fauci’s words a lie? A mistake? A true reading of the selfishness, greed, and lack of empathy they knew Americans were capable of exhibiting in a crisis?

16 months later there are anti-maskers pointing to Fauci’s words as justification for disobeying public health regulations currently in place, so I’m not sure that his impulse was his best career decision. It’s not right up there with injecting bleach into your veins, or shoving light sticks up where the sun don’t shine, but Fauci’s probably justifiably low opinion of his fellow citizens had a pretty serious rebound effect.

On March 30th, our PM Justin Trudeau announced a new wage subsidy program that would cover all businesses whose revenues had dropped by at least 30% because of COVID, and on April 14th, that aid was extended to nearly 5.4 million Canadians as CERB (Canadian Emergency Response Benefit)  Some received as much as $2000 a month, which, along with other pandemic discounts, like a reduction of primetime Hydro costs, allowed singles and families to limp along as stores were shuttered, and restaurants and bars closed their doors – some, forever.

For a very long time I kept a tally of the rising numbers of the dead, even as I noted in my calendar the passing of friends, whose lives were never officially celebrated, because of limitations on gatherings.  

Throughout the summer of 2020, families struggled to keep themselves and their kids occupied, as teachers frantically worked to put together some sort of curriculum that they still did not know if they would be presenting in person, or by ZOOM. Most teachers had to do double duty, and prepare prospectuses for both aspects.

At the beginning of October, as America neared the critical November presidential election, it was suddenly announced that then president Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus. He was whisked away for treatment, where a battery of specialists laboured to save his life. We now know that it was touch and go for him, and that he would not have survived had he been an ordinary patient without access to emergency and experimental medications. Still, insouciant and ungrateful, he was released from hospital within a few days, and triumphantly removed his face mask for the camera in a carefully posed for posterity, ridiculous, photo op. 

(And is it just me, or does that pic not scream it’s resemblance to the imagery and vibes of The Man In The High Castle?) 

Had he died, or had he finally told his followers how severe the disease was, and had he told them that simply masking themselves could help with slowing the spread, he might have saved hundreds of thousands of lives. But he did not, and the death toll in America soon hit a landmark figure – half a million American souls had died from this horrible disease.

Trump received 74 million votes, but there is no indication of how many of those were ‘mercy’ votes. Regardless, the tally was still lower than Biden’s, who received more than 81 million requests to take over before the ship of state went down for a third and final time.

The development of a vaccine was on the horizon. Although it normally takes about 10 to 15 years to produce a new vaccine, scientists had been working on something along the lines of COVID for a decade, since the SARS epidemic of 2009. Between that headstart, and the liberal application of government funding, at least three workable vaccines were produced in record time.   

On December 8th, the first Pfizer vaccine was injected into the arm of 91 year old Margaret Keenan, of Britain, and on December 14th, both Canada and the U.S. began administering vaccines to their citizens.  

But there’s a difference between having a vaccine available, and getting that vaccine out and into the arms of those who need it, and in this case, about 7 billion people needed two doses of it, and STAT. Many, many more mistakes were made.

While governments struggled to put schedules into place for the procuring and administering of the vaccine, the toll of the sick and the dead continued to rise around the world. Quebec and Ontario were hard hit, and curfews and stay-at-home orders took effect, restricting our movements.   

Winter dragged listlessly into spring. Time became amorphous, and most days, I didn’t know if it was a Monday or a Thursday. Nor did I care. I applauded those that took creative control of the lockdown and produced work, but refused to beat myself up for not being industrious in traumatic times.

On April 7, 2021, a much more vigorous third province wide lockdown went into effect in Ontario, and Ontarians learned a new term – ‘non-essential goods.’  We discovered that this covered children’s toys, books, underwear, shoes and sandals, hobby supplies, and non-garden centre gardening items.

Everyone had their high and low points; I’ll never forget the day I nearly burst into tears in a Dollarama because the foam mannequin head I needed for a craft project was deemed ‘non-essential.’  It wasn’t the foam head I was mourning, so much as the very idea of simply entering a store, choosing an item, and being allowed to freely purchase said item. That’s what I’ve done all of my life. Having that ‘right’ denied cut like a knife. I had had enough. I did not want to play pandemic any more. 

On the day that Ontario’s shopping lockdown was lifted, consumers headed out in droves to satisfy their itch to buy-buy-buy. There were lineups at every store, including the dollar shops and charity outlets. One morning I wanted to shop at a local charity store. About twenty minutes before the store was to open, there were 17 people in line ahead of me. When I asked some of the waiting if they had a specific purchase in mind, they told me that just being able to get into a store, to see what was available, and to freely touch the items was all they wanted.  

We are not just human-touch starved, it seems. We are also starved of the everyday, ordinary tactile experiences that we used to take for granted.

Because I have certain health issues, I made it a priority to get vaccinated as early as possible. Shawn and I had our first jab April 6th, and our second on June 7th. We’re now covered and eager to get back to some semblance of a social life in the near future.

well, not quite THIS social … 😉

But sixteen months after our COVID-19 journey began, the world has actually had more COVID deaths in 2021 to date than it did in all of 2020.  It’s NOT over. We, the lucky and the vaccinated in the West, can’t afford to rest on our jabbed laurels; the ill and the dying in less wealthy countries are producing variants that may be able to sneak past our vaccine defenses.

Where are we now? The Delta variant of the virus still poses a danger for the unvaccinated, and it’s apparently more contagious and deadlier than the previous version. The fully vaccinated are probably protected. This variant represents a phase of the pandemic that focuses on the unvaccinated.  

Even as the number of Canadian hospitalizations and deaths fall, people around the world are reimposing mask requirements and death tolls are rising. In Africa, a third wave is surging, and threatening to be it’s most devastating and worst wave yet. India has recorded over 30 million cases, and nearly 400,000 deaths. In Sydney, Australia this week, at least half a million residents have been forced into lockdown for yet another week.

And still there are no plans to shelve the Tokyo Olympics, which open officially in just four weeks. One option in play is a ‘no-spectator games,’ but the situation changes from day to day, and organizers need to remain flexible to changes. Since there’s already signs of a resurgence of infections (1% in the last week) athletes have to roll the dice to decide whether or not participation is a wise choice for their health and their careers. 

Last week, two members of the Ugandan team tested positive for the Delta variant upon entry to Japan. No matter how extensive the testing may be, there are 11,000 Olympian athletes and 4,400 Paralympic athletes entering Tokyo, along with the tens of thousands of additional participants amongst the coaches, judges, and federation officials. That’s a lot of testing. And a lot of room for error and mistakes.

Covid-zero nations are working diligently to eliminate the virus through isolation and mass vaccinations. Biden’s White House has said that it will provide Afghanistan with 3 million doses of the J&J vaccine, of which only one dose is needed, along with oxygen and other supplies, in an effort to help with an outbreak of the delta variant.

Overall, the United States is donating 55 million doses to the world. Canada has plans to donate 100 million doses as part of the G7 effort to provide a billion doses to low- and middle-income countries, but for now, we are donating 13 million ‘surplus’ doses, which are mainly comprised of brands which we are either having difficulty bringing into Canada, or which haven’t been authorized for Canadian distribution.

It’s been a devastating sixteen months, and it’s not over yet. We’ve seen the best in people, and we’ve certainly seen the worst come from the words and deeds of the selfish and the ignorant. Many of us seem determined not to give those who got us here their due; again, there have been mistakes made, but we’re still standing, and in Canada, we’re closing in on the finish line, with reasonable numbers to show for this unexpected and overwhelming calamity.

We’ve learned that being elected can’t turn a bad politician into a leader, and that leadership doesn’t come naturally to all contenders. And we’ve learned that we, as a nation, are strong enough to make it through a crisis that brought other countries to their knees.

And for that, at least, we can be justly proud.

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