Markham, ON. 4 DEC, 2021.
Another variant of COVID-19 has emerged, labelled the “omicron” variant. It is the fifth variant strain of the novel coronavirus that has held an iron grip on our world since its first emergence in late 2019. Since the omicron’s first sighting in South Africa, four cases have popped up in Ottawa and one case has popped up in Quebec. This comes as the holiday season dawns, bringing with it a wave of travel. This is, to say the least, a worrying development.
Don’t Panic, but Don’t Relax in fighting Omicron
One thing I’d like to impress on my readers right away is not to panic. The scariest thing about the omicron variant at present is that we don’t yet know precisely what it is capable of. In a sense, we don’t know whether this new variant is more infectious than normal or not, more damaging to those who catch it or not. That being said, early projections suggest that the omicron variant may be more contagious, quicker to spread, but the World Health Organization has yet to confirm this to be the case.
Panic is counterproductive, but don’t take that as a sign to let your guard down. One potential concern regarding the omicron variant is that, due to its mutation, the current vaccines on the market may not be as effective in combatting it. Of particular note is the CEO of Moderna, who notes that the scientists he’s talked to are worried. However, this doesn’t mean the vaccines don’t work, and indeed the other CEOs of vaccine-producing companies have expressed steady confidence in their products. The important thing is to be cautious, and take all the steps to protect yourself and the community - wash hands and wear a mask.
Our Government’s Response
This is where I feel our government has dropped the ball. The most recent update we’ve gotten from the Government of Canada is this; a list of nine countries, and the promise that any foreign national who has been to one of these countries in the past 14 days will not be permitted to enter the country. Canadian nationals travelling from anywhere other than the US will be tested and quarantined until their results are clear, with travellers from the above-mentioned nine countries facing mandatory quarantines of 14 days.
The Honourable Omar Alghabra, our Minister of Transport, is quoted in this statement as saying, “our government continues to take unprecedented and swift action to protect the health and safety of Canadians.” The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, our Minister of Health, is quoted as saying, “we are taking quick action at our borders.” I disagree. Our government has been anything but quick-handed when it comes to dealing with COVID-19. Even accounting for the amount of time needed to respond to sudden outbreaks, we had a chance to do something back when the omicron variant was first reported. That was on November 9th. Why are we only just now enacting countermeasures?
We aren’t learning our Lessons
We should know better than this. Canada has been slow when it comes to responding to the spread of viruses. Back in February 2020, early in the pandemic, I called for the closing of borders. I felt, and still feel, that Canada should be more attentive to the practices of other countries and more proactive when it comes to protecting our own public health. Take Australia and New Zealand as an example. Their quick response in closing the border gave their residents a better chance of safety and health, and the results speak for themselves. It is still not too late for Canada to follow suit and it is best for Canadians if we can act faster this time round.
Think back to SARS, and the lessons we could have learned. Governmental sluggishness and opacity cost us dearly back then, and they’ve cost us dearly now. Precautionary measures can do a lot for our public health, so I think it makes sense for us to take those measures more often. When a novel variant pops up, perhaps closing our borders until we have a better sense of what it is that we are capable of would be a sensible idea.