Canada’s patchwork pandemic response has failed the public

The Third Wave about which I am familiar was the sequel to my high school-era, alerting-to-the-world-out-there futurist book, Future Shock, by the generally on-point Alvin Toffler. It heralded the move into the information age.

Didn’t realize that nearly a half-century later I’d be employing the term again, and this time not in a good way and with far less welcoming and optimism.

The third wave I now know is coming our way owes to the variants of a pandemic we haven’t yet outwrestled, to the variants that will outsprint the vaccination schedule, to the variants that will increase the illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths in the months ahead.

We are under an illusion largely framed by political decision-makers that we can mosey these next months through tepid restrictions and limited activities, as if one-third plus one-third will equal a whole.

In part from their inadequate foresight, in part from their insufficient credibility to lead, our politicians chose to implement part-measures months ago when by far the best course was a definite but finite shutdown. There would be real light at the end of the tunnel today if so.

But no, we are about to pay the price. Perhaps in British Columbia we will feel insulated, but only because we will sacrifice the hospitality industry so crucial to our economy. It will mean a retreat from operating as a retreat for the world and a continued ravenous feast on the public dime for the second spring, summer, fall and winter. At least.

Our national leadership has run its course. The 13 jurisdictions of the country were never made nationally congruent in the pandemic, never compelled by any bully pulpit or with any financial strings attached to have standards that could be trusted from time zone to time zone.

The result is an archipelago of oddball measures that from a distance look like a vendor’s table at a bazaar.

No politician is eager to wear the dark hat, understandably, but every politician instinctively thinks of the next election and the measures to take and avoid meantime to optimize success at the ballot box. Even the tough love that Justin Trudeau professes to dispense from his cottage steps sounds like a lullaby. The stern populist Doug Ford in Ontario pops off but hardly gets under the skin the way we know Ford has and could. And John Horgan? We haven’t seen the notorious Hulk side of him and won’t.

No, our politicians have been delicate, even apologetic on telling us what we have needed to hear, hour by hour and day by day. They can’t suddenly bring on the bite. They have their aides, their polls and their re-elections ahead of what history will show were their obligations, their moral compasses and their legacies. Easy, of course, when you can just write cheques to sedate.

By most serious accounts, March and April could march and ascend into another public health crisis. The milder caseloads today disguise the subterfuge of the nascent variants, for which we are generally ill-prepared. Even though the second wave was far worse than the first, we have deluded ourselves that a third wave couldn’t possibly be. This is rather like the marathoner thinking the 20th kilometre will be easier than the 30th  or the 40th.

The facts beg to differ. The variants are extraordinary in their virulence. They might even evade immunity from the vaccines or previous infections. And we may not have seen all of them yet.

The vaccination schedule, meanwhile, is not only sluggish – and, no matter what we’re told, behind – but also leaves many vulnerable and frontline workers open to infection as the economy reopens. Jurisdictions are inconsistent in their understanding and addressing of the concerns, so there is a patchwork across Canada of the management techniques. The vaccines themselves protect us, but do not prevent us from asymptomatically spreading, so we will need to continue our cautious behaviour post-jabs.

Moreover, as scientists plead for a shutdown, political leadership ghosts them.

The wisest course would have been a 90-day shutdown, a redoubling of support to get us through it and a reawakening in the spring – like airing out the stale apartment or opening the musty cabin – that evidence shows would be safer, sounder and superbly rejuvenate.

It won’t happen.

Instead we will more probably see the cases increase, the hospital beds more occupied, the non-COVID surgeries scuttled, the recovery very milquetoasty, the malaise exhausting, and the death toll well beyond what we could have collectively prevented were it for leadership and boundaries earlier.

This isn’t what we asked our leaders to do.

We asked them to make us safe and sound until we could live full lives again. What they are giving us in their most impotent hour is neither safe nor sound nor life.

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.