My article this week will be short and sweet, and no doubt make some people unhappy. So be it.
It’s time to get really serious about ending the COVID 19 pandemic. Despite all efforts, it hasn’t gone away. While variants of the virus have different strengths and consequences, infections are increasing at an alarming rate. A month ago, daily COVID-19 infections in Ontario were in the low hundreds. On Friday there were over 1,600 COVID infections reported in Ontario.
The majority of these people are unvaccinated. Too many of them are children. There is also an increasing number of infections in people who have been double vaccinated. In part, this is because of compromised immune systems and pre-existing conditions. It may also be because the effectiveness of vaccines decreases over time.
Sadly too, there are a growing number of people, yes, anti-vaxxers, who not only oppose COVID vaccinations for themselves but spread disinformation and scare tactics so that those that are hesitant will avoid vaccination. It has become a part of woke politics that is both alarming and dangerous.
The hard fact, as I understand it, is that a virus only is eradicated when there is no place for it to replicate or mutate. As long as a host exists, so does the virus. Without a vaccine, polio, and smallpox, measles and chickenpox would still be rampant. The same holds true for COVID-19 and its variants.
To me then, especially as the latest COVID variant, Omicron, raises its ugly head, maximum protection through vaccination is a no-brainer.
I have friends who are vaccine-hesitant, and I know of families who are divided over anti-vaxxers in their midst. And I am painfully aware that there are still people out there who believe the COVID-19 virus is nothing more than a hoax. All of that is unfortunate.
But that doesn’t change the reality that this virus is real, millions have contracted it and hundreds of thousands have died from it. COVID-19 is a genuine pandemic that can only be effectively eradicated through vaccination.
As we go through this latest round of infections of COVID-19 and its variants, we cannot revert to many of the methods used over the past eighteen months to control the spread. Most humans can only take so much isolation. Further lockdowns and business closures will only foster frustration, anger and serious mental health issues — to say nothing about the pressure on the economy and on parents having to home-school their children on top of their own work schedules. Most individuals are not willing to wait a lot longer for a return to some form of normalcy in their daily lives.
That is why it is time for a wake-up call.
No longer can politicians, or for that matter the general public, be wishy-washy about what needs to be done to effectively manage new stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. To fail to insist on necessary protocols to contain the curve of the virus, and to fail to enforce them, means we will inexorably be back to restrictions that would not be tolerated and could create civil unrest.
So, here is my view on what is needed:
First, we need to tighten existing requirements. For example, medical exemptions need to be more fully scrutinized. There is potential for abuse of the system here and significant evidence that it is happening. It is good to see the Ontario Government waking up to this and requiring health units to verify the validity of exemptions provided by physicians in their vicinity.
Also, with the possible exception of genuine medical exemptions, there must be consequences for the choice of remaining unvaccinated against COVID-19. That would include travel restrictions and significant restrictions to gathering in public spaces. If that requires emergency legislation to temporarily limit certain freedoms for those who refuse to be vaccinated, then so be it.
I know it is controversial but having some knowledge of the pressure, toil, and frustration on front-line health care workers, patients hospitalized with COVID who have refused to be vaccinated (other than those ineligible) should not expect priority treatment in an over-loaded system over others who have a serious illness.
While I believe in the importance of children and young people being physically in school, parents who decide not to have their children over the age of five vaccinated for COVID-19 should be told that they will have to be home-schooled with remote learning.
Until the number of COVID infections dramatically decreases as more children get vaccinated and more adults receive their booster shots, masks should be made mandatory in all public places, except when eating.
It is also important that extensive public information campaigns be extended to promote other important public safety COVID protocols such as frequent hand-washing and social distancing, when appropriate.
Tough talk? Tough medicine? You bet it is! But it is also a wake-up call. If we really want to make this pandemic yesterday’s news; if we really do not want to go backwards, then we need to think seriously about how to accomplish that and act on it.
It won’t happen by itself.
Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.
In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.
Currently, Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc., the parent company of Doppler Online, and he enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.
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