By Pauline Kerr
A strange thing happened on the way to getting control over the COVID-19 pandemic – local businesses and community organizations started stepping in where senior levels of government feared to tread.
While the federal government has finally mandated that federal employees be vaccinated, as well as pledged support to provinces requiring proof of vaccination, these actions have happened relatively late in the game.
Here in Ontario, the provincial government took a moderately strong leadership role regarding vaccination passports, but only after the public made it clear this was what they expected.
It is pretty much a repeat of what has happened throughout the pandemic. Our federal and provincial governments largely ignored the COVID-19 virus, until people in this country started dying from it. While no one knows if lives would have been saved had government stepped up to the plate a month or two earlier, most of us suspect the mess in our long-term care homes might have been averted to some extent.
Quiet efforts to ensure adequate supplies of gloves, masks and other items before the pandemic got out of hand would certainly have been more effective than emergency efforts to swing deals with foreign manufacturers overwhelmed with health crises in their own countries.
We might also have avoided some of the more bizarre impacts of the pandemic – toilet paper hoarding being a good example – had senior levels of government been on high alert earlier, and provided guidance to the private sector.
We are well aware there has been no pandemic play book for government leaders to consult. They, like the rest of us, have been making the best decisions they can, based on what information is available.
Unlike the rest of us, whose decisions impact our families, co-workers and perhaps a handful of others, government decisions affect millions of people. A certain amount of caution is expected, as are changes in direction when new information becomes available.
That said, there comes a point when prudent caution starts looking like foot-dragging. We are at that point with COVID-19 vaccinations.
The push to make masks a requirement did not come from the top down, but the other way around. In addition, most of us could see the need for lockdowns long before they became official.
There was considerable hesitancy in imposing vaccine passports, but they worked. Prior to the passports, there were fewer people getting immunized. That changed with the requirement to show proof of vaccination at restaurants and sporting events.
However, enough people remain unvaccinated that the highly contagious delta variant continues to make hundreds of people sick each day in this province. In order to protect those who cannot be vaccinated because of age or medical condition, many employers, especially in the health-care field, are now making vaccination mandatory.
Where do senior levels of government stand on this?
To date, they have maintained a firm stance, heads planted in the sand, stating people have the right to get vaccinated or not, even as a growing number of employers are giving the adamantly vaccine-hesitant the right to work elsewhere.
Ontario has finally seen rumblings of a move to make vaccination mandatory for people in health care and education, although from an Opposition party.
The fact is, Ontario still sees close to 600 new cases of COVID-19 per day, the vast majority among the unvaccinated. While vaccination is not perfect protection, it greatly reduces a person’s chance of getting extremely ill with the virus and ending up in a hospital intensive care unit.
A lot of people in this province are running out of patience with COVID-19 continuing to claim so many of our health-care resources. There is a horrendous backlog of delayed surgeries, and hospital staff are burning out at a frightening rate.
It is time for leadership from our provincial leaders. The answer is not just funding for new nurses, which will pay off richly in years to come, but a lot fewer unvaccinated COVID patients in our ICUs, now.
This cannot be left solely in the hands of the private sector.