Remember March 11, 2020?
Of course you do. It was the day the world changed.
It started, as world-endings perhaps do, in unexpected ways. Everyone has their own “where were you” story, like when famous people die suddenly.
This writer was on his couch in Toronto, watching something forgettable on TV, when the unforgettable news blinked onto an iPhone. Tom Hanks and his wife, filming in Australia, announced they had COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Minutes later, a statement from the National Basketball Association appeared. The basketball season was being suspended “until further notice.” A player with the Utah Jazz had it, too.
Truth be told, I wasn’t totally shocked. In my communications class at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Law, we had been tracking the coronavirus for weeks, because we were convinced it was going to get worse.
And now it was, dramatically so. I didn’t ever expect the Heralds of Doom would be a Hollywood actor and some basketball players, but perhaps that was needed to communicate that it was real. It was really, really happening.
Observers of the government of Justin Trudeau could be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t, however. In the terrifying days that followed, Trudeau’s witless minister of health told Canadians not to wear masks. She said the risk of getting sick was “low.”
And anyone who politely suggested that we should consider closing borders was called a racist by the Trudeau cabal. Subsequently, their acquisition of vaccines became a fiasco, and Canada would lag far behind the Americans and Europeans.
Well, that was March 11, 2020 and the days thereafter. That was the start of this, the COVID Plague. More than five million people have been killed by it; many millions more made seriously ill, some permanently. Economies crushed, businesses decimated, lives upended.
And now — perhaps, maybe — it is starting to feel a bit like March 11, 2020 all over again.
The Heralds of Doom, this time, weren’t actors and basketball players. It was, properly, governments. Within hours early on Friday, they started closing their borders to travellers from African countries. Markets fell, prices rose.
And we all started watching our phones more closely, asking ourselves: is it here already? Federal health officials don’t know.
The new variant initially bore the bland, antiseptic name B.1.1.529 — but was dubbed Omicron by the World Health Organization on Friday.
All of the previous coronavirus mutations were diabolical — slithering, like snakes, around public health measures and personal immunities.
Omicron, first detected in densely-populated South Africa, is incalculably worse, in two critical ways.
Firstly, it is five times more effective at infecting humans than the very worst of the variants.
Secondly — and this the menacing March 11, 2020 fact — it may be powerful enough to defeat the vaccines most of us have in our bodies. As in, we may be just as vulnerable to sickness and death as we were on March 11, 2020.
The good news, of course, is that we know that masks generally work as well as vaccines. Social distancing and regular handwashing help a great deal, as well. So does closing borders to countries with outbreaks — something now happening within hours, not weeks and months.
Also good news: the new federal Minister of Health, Jean Yves Duclos, has already revealed himself to be far more coherent and capable than his bumbling predecessor.
On Friday afternoon, after Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole demanded immediate action.
Duclos announced multiple restrictions on travel to or from seven different African nations. Anyone who has recently been in one of those countries must immediately enter quarantine and get tested, Duclos declared.
So far, so good. Much is at stake: lives, economies, futures. Will Trudeau and his regime do better, this time?
Because, this time may be March 11, 2020 all over again.
— Warren Kinsella was Chief of Staff to a federal Liberal Minister of Health