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Canada’s response to the pandemic is rapidly evolving towards “learn to live with the virus— where COVID-19 is ultimately treated like other seasonal illnesses, surveillance is massively reduced, and public health measures are largely lifted.
But as some provinces move closer to easing restrictions after facing the pandemic’s deadliest month Since COVID-19 vaccines have become widely available, there seems to be a dramatic divide over what living with the virus actually means — and how it will work.
Chief Public Health Officer Dr Theresa Tam said on Friday Canada must find a more “sustainable” way to deal with the pandemic and all existing public health policies, including provincial vaccine passports, are to be “reviewed” in the coming weeks.
“What we need to do going forward, as we come out of this Omicron wave, is recognize that this virus is not going to go away,” she said. “We need to get back to some normality.”
But even with record hospitalizations and intensive care admissions just beginning to show signs of decline Nationally, public health officials and politicians across the country have already embraced this new pandemic strategy as they prepare to lift restrictions.
Saskatchewan set to lift all restrictions
Saskatchewan pivoted to living with the virus on Thursday by announcing new limits on PCR testing, ending sharing of daily COVID-19 data and halting investigation of most outbreaks outside of hospitals and long-term care duration.
The change came after Premier Scott Moe published a letter last Saturday by supporting protesters in Ottawa demanding an end to all vaccination mandates or a change of government, while wrongly claim “Vaccination does not reduce transmission.”
But while the effectiveness of two doses has been significantly reduced against Omicron, there is growing evidence that boosters still resist infection well, serious illness and death.
Moe’s comments are a huge change in messaging from what he said just a few months ago when the Prime Minister openly criticizes the unvaccinated and imposed mandatory masking and proof of vaccination policies during a devastating fourth wave.
“As a government, we have been patient with those who chose not to be vaccinated,” he said Sept. 16. “But the time for patience is over.”
Fast forward to today, and while Saskatchewan has left current restrictions such as mask mandates and vaccine certificates in place for now, Moe hinted that they won’t last long – and he’s not alone.
“For better or for worse, that’s going to happen across the country,” said Dr. Alexander Wong, an infectious disease physician at Regina General Hospital and associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan.
“The question is, why are we in such a rush to do all of this? It’s clearly political.”
WATCH | Saskatchewan Premier says COVID-19 restrictions “end very soon”:
Alberta ready to reopen when hospitalizations drop
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said he also hopes lift all public health restrictions related to COVID-19 by the end of February if hospitalizations drop, but the situation is still showing no signs of slowing down as the province continues to regularly report double-digit daily deaths.
“In our COVID ward right now, our hospital is packed,” said Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease physician and associate professor at the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
“And I think at this point, talking about ‘Well, we’re just going to go back to normal’, it doesn’t feel normal yet and I think we need a bit more cushion.”
Saxinger said there is a “necessary transition” that will happen with the pandemic where Canada will move away from counting COVID-19 cases, containing outbreaks and trying to find every case – but no one knows. still not sure if this should happen now.
“There comes a point, especially with Omicron being so prevalent at the moment, where it’s not even really doable. It’s like trying to isolate a tree in a burning forest – it doesn’t necessarily have to be done anymore. meaningful,” she said.
“Does that mean we have to accept the burning forest?”
WATCH | COVID-19 isn’t going away: Alberta’s top doctor:
Saxinger said that if Canada plans to transition to a state where a background level of COVID-19 is expected without doing anything extreme to contain it, there must be clear benchmarks as to what level is acceptable and if we we will have to change course.
“I really regret that people don’t recognize that we may have to change our plan,” she said. “For me right now, the discussion of learning to live with it seems early.”
Ontario is “confident” that “the worst is behind us”
Ontario started easing of public health restrictions end of January, with a plan to lift most of the remaining measures by mid-March, with the rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations remaining at low levels downward trend despite the the daily death toll continues to rise.
“We are taking a cautious approach,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Jan. 20, before adding he was “confident” the reopening plan would work and that “the worst is behind us. “.
But Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, said Thursday that while there is an overall improvement in the COVID-19 situation, the coming weeks will “continue to be difficult” for the provincial hospital system.
WATCH | Ontario’s top doctor says “we’ve let our lives be controlled” by COVID-19:
“We are not out of the woods yet. We still have to be careful,” he said. “But we’ve learned a lot over the past two years and I think we’re in a much better position to learn to live with this virus and be less afraid of it.”
Moore said Ontario will “monitor the situation internationally,” while other officials have also sharp to countries like Denmark and United Kingdomwho recently lifted nearly all COVID-19 related restrictions, as examples to watch closely for reopening.
“It’s important to keep an eye out for people who are a bit more advanced than us as we make plans,” Saxinger said. “Because you don’t want to have to relearn the lesson that’s already been learned elsewhere.”
But directly comparing Canada to countries with completely different demographics doesn’t provide definitive conclusions about what lies ahead here, especially when our vaccination rates are dramatically lower.
More … than 60 percent of the Danish population received a third dose, as well as more than 65 percent of eligible people in the UK, compared to just over 40% Canadians.
“It’s the difference between your hospitalizations that don’t crush you,” Wong said.
Too early to “declare victory”
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu warned on Tuesday of the trend gaining traction around the world to ease restrictions due to public pressure and pandemic fatigue, and warned that Omicron should not be underestimated.
“We are concerned that a narrative has taken hold in some countries that because of vaccines – and because of Omicron’s high transmissibility and low severity – prevention of transmission is not no longer possible and is no longer necessary,” he told a news conference.
“Nothing could be further from the truth. It is premature for any country to surrender or declare victory. This virus is dangerous and it continues to evolve before our eyes.”
Timothy Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta, said learning to live with the virus should not mean immediately lifting all health measures public in the future, adding that we must “bring the public with us” and continue to closely monitor the virus in the population.
“It doesn’t mean we’re going to return to a state of normality and COVID is just going to be background noise in our lives,” he said. “That means we’re going to have to be constantly vigilant.”