The Premier, Predictions and the Pandemic

By Roger Bill/December 23, 2021

Last week during what was supposed to be the final provincial government Covid-19 media briefing before Christmas, I asked Premier Andrew Furey about something he had said nine months earlier during a similar media briefing. That earlier briefing was on March 3rd and the provincial election was still underway. 

I guess somebody in the Premier’s office didn’t like the question, because shortly after last Wednesday’s briefing the Editor of The Shoreline News got a call to ask if I really was participating in the Covid briefing on behalf of the paper. The answer is, yes and I joined the media briefing to ask one specific question

The Question

The background to the question is simple. During the election campaign Dr. Furey was optimistic and predicted that the end of the pandemic was in sight. Then candidate Furey said, “The light at the end of the tunnel is shining brighter.” At the time I wrote a column for The Shoreline News about his prediction

Those were grim days. The first vaccines were beginning to trickle in, but people were scared, and people were dying, and candidate Andrew Furey was telling voters he could see the bright light at the end of the tunnel. 

Instead, Covid fatigue set in. Some days felt “endless” as Dr. Janet Fitzgerald said during an unplanned-for Covid media briefing last Friday. Then we made progress. We masked up. We got vaccinated. Travel resumed. It took months, but kids went back to school. This Fall we started to remember what normal felt like. Then a new coronavirus variant arrived. Omicron.  Case counts, Dr. Fitzgerald predicts, could “rise rapidly.” The timing of this fourth wave she says, “sucks.”

So, I joined the Covid-19 media briefing last Wednesday, recalled Premier Furey’s bright-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel prediction in March, and asked him what lessons he had learned about predictions and this pandemic.

The Answer

You can see the Premier’s response. A link to the December 15th media briefing is on the government’s Covid-19 website. The exchange between the Premier and I is at the 47:26 mark.  The memorable part of his response may prove to be where he characterized this oncoming Omicron wave as “a bit of a hiccup.” Forty-eight hours later, on the 17th, the “hiccup” triggered new public health restrictions and Dr. Fitzgerald would not rule schools staying closed after the Christmas holidays. She is right. It sucks. 

Dr. Fitzgerald’s counterpart in Ontario describes Omicron as a “game changer.” Premier Furey describes it as “a bit of a hiccup.” If I could have asked a follow-up question at the media briefing on the 15th, I would have invited Premier Furey to clarify what he meant by “a bit of a hiccup.” People may interpret “hiccup” to be minimizing or even trivializing the Omicron threat and I doubt that is how he feels. It is a question that will wait for another day.

Four days later, on Sunday the 19th, it was obvious the Omicron wave is crashing over us.

Additional public health restrictions were introduced. Dr. Fitzgerald’s voice cracked and her eyes teared-up as she announced that anyone entering the province would have to self-isolate for five days. It is not a hiccup and it really sucks.

Roger Bill is a veteran Newfoundland and Canadian journalist who spent most of his career, including international assignments, with the CBC.

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