Nan and Pop and the New Normal

By Roger Bill

Next Monday the Province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health is scheduled to remove the last of the restrictions that have become a part of everyday life since the onset of the pandemic. No more masks. Go to the mall. Party on George Street St. Patrick’s Day? Yes. The pandemic is over. Welcome to the New Normal. Covid is going to be just like the flu. 

At least, that is what the Premier, Dr. Fitzgerald, and the Minister of Health are telling us. If you are vaccinated and boosted, then Premier Andrew Furey “anticipates” you will have a 98 per cent chance of avoiding what he calls a “severe outcome” if Covid finds you. Deaths from Covid, the Premier said, will be reduced to “an influenza-like statistic.”

What is “an influenza-like statistic”? Fortunately, the Department of Health and Community Services counts things like influenza deaths. The number of influenza deaths reported in the province for the last five years is 97, or less than 20 per year. Are we on track to having less than 20 Covid deaths this year? No. We are on track to having way more. In the first two months of this year there have already been 47 Covid deaths. 

According to the Premier’s office, prior to announcing the March 14 date for removing restrictions, the provincial government did not do any public opinion research to test attitudes about the move. If it had, then it probably would have discovered that some older people think they are being treated like collateral damage, sort of like the price to be paid for everyday life to return to normal. For people 70+ things look different. For example, they ask, how many of the 47 Covid deaths in the first two months of this year were people over 70? The answer is 80 per cent. Too bad for the elders, eh?

Getting vaccinated and wearing masks has helped reduce our hospitalizations and having our health care system overwhelmed. Unless your cancer care was delayed or you couldn’t get a knee replaced or an MRI or a CT scan in a timely fashion, then by that metric there has been success. Before Omicron, however, there was Delta and the original version of the virus and limiting the number of people dying was the metric that measured the success of our response.

We accepted severe restrictions. Entering the province was limited. We quarantined. Businesses were closed. Schools were closed. The goal was to snuff out transmission of the virus. It was an extraordinary time. It will probably prove to have been an unforgettable time.

What may also be unforgettable is a death toll twice the influenza rate once restrictions are lifted next week. Or, three times the influenza rate. Or, a number beyond what is possible to characterize as an “influenza-like statistic,” especially for people 70+ or immunocompromised.

Or, perhaps it doesn’t matter what the metrics and death rates are if the next variant rolls across the province and blows up every prediction, anticipation, hope, and plan. The next one is called BA.2. It is reportedly more transmissible than Omicron. 

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