By Sally Barnes
The virus deniers and those of us who are not taking basic pandemic precautions are like the people who considered World War II someone else’s battle and left it to others to beat the tyrant and secure our freedom and our future.
On Remembrance Day we were reminded of the legions of young Canadians who signed up and went overseas to defend our way of life. More than 45,000 never came home. Even more returned damaged—some for the rest of their lives.
You gotta ask how that crisis would play out today.
Our healthcare officials worry that “pandemic fatigue” is setting in already.
Pity that the chaps in the squalid trenches couldn’t have declared, “Well, I’ve had enough of this crap. Stuff this #^$&* war. I’m going home.”
Have we become so comfortable and entitled that we aren’t willing to sacrifice for the sake of our families and friends and the wider community? Have we become so cynical that we don’t believe what is happening around us and scorn those trying to help us out of this mess? Do we actually believe the conspiracy theories that this is some kind of hoax? Is it too damned much to expect people to wear a mask or stay home or postpone family celebrations until conditions improve?
The great new hope is that vaccines will be available in the new year. But early research indicates that many Americans and Canadians may refuse the vaccine.(Get ready for scare tactics by the anti-vaxxers while others will hesitate to be convinced of the vaccines’ safety.)
I am staggered by the number of people who have bought into some crazy cult that refuses to accept the reality that we are facing the biggest health crisis in a century. It’s here. It’s growing. Stop pretending that it isn’t.
Across “the world’s longest undefended border” just to the south of us, the COVID death toll is 250,000 and climbing.
Italy is today back to where it was last spring with a second wave of the coronavirus sweeping the country and one in 60 Italians testing positive with the virus.
The World Health Organization now estimates 51.5 million cases globally.
The so-called Spanish flu of 1918 that claimed 50,000 Canadian lives caught our ancestors uninformed, unprepared, and ill-equipped. But today’s high-speed communications and scientific advancement reveal the reality for all to see:
- Exhausted healthcare workers and first responders.
- Makeshift hospitals in community centers and morgues in hockey rinks to deal with the dying and dead.
- Public officials and faith in democracy under attack in the polarized struggle to balance economic and healthcare priorities.
From our prime minister down to leaders in our smallest communities, officials are struggling to keep their hands off the panic button while too many people think that we are somehow immune to this worldwide phenomenon. This, despite mounting evidence.
For example, mental health emergencies are on the rise and thousands of surgeries and other procedures have been postponed as our healthcare system prepares for the worst.
In communities everywhere, shops and restaurants have closed—many of them forever. Owners lost their battle to pay the rent and taxes and other expenses. Despite various government emergency funding, many other places of business are hanging by a thread and won’t make it through the winter when we add to the mix factors like heating costs and decreasing business.
It’s heartbreaking to see businesses shuttered. The closed signs often mean a lifetime of hard work wiped out. Lest we think we won’t all suffer the consequences of those closures, think again. These shops and restaurants are the heart of our communities. In some cases, generations of our families have shopped there. We went to school with their kids. Attended the same hockey games and places of worship. Supported the same good causes.
Most people would be shocked to learn how much municipal taxes these businesses pay. Municipalities can’t operate on borrowed money the way the federal and provincial governments do. With less money available from commercial tax revenues, municipalities large and small are already struggling and will have no choice but to cut services or increase taxes on the rest of us.
And as Canadians, we and our children and grandchildren will all have to sacrifice to repay the huge national debt mounting daily to pay the costs of fighting this pandemic.
Unfortunately, there is even much more than our finances, our health, and our lives at stake in this battle.
History teaches us that times of crisis and desperation can lead societies to tragic outcomes. Populists eager to pander to and incite our worst instincts can smell political opportunity a mile away. In the extreme, think Germany circa 1930.
There is considerable research that shows respect and support for democracy itself is fragile these days. Studies show a majority of young people are quite unconvinced that it is the best form of governance.
Blame that on social media and the misinformation and conspiracy theories it spawns, political leadership that often falls short of vision and high standards, outdated and ineffective institutions, inequality and the ever-widening gap between the obscenely rich and the obscenely poor—or all the above and more.
It is helpful to recall Churchill’s assertion that despite all of its shortcomings, democracy is still the best of all governance options. Just ask those who have lived under the tyranny of despots and dictatorships the world over.
In these challenging times we all carry a heavy burden of responsibility—especially those in public office and in healthcare leadership.
It is not for the faint of heart.
We can only hope we have the wisdom and courage of those earlier generations who faced crises that seemed insurmountable at the time.
Only time will tell.
Sally Barnes has enjoyed a distinguished career as a writer, journalist and author. Her work has been recognized in a number of ways, including receiving a Southam Fellowship in Journalism at Massey College at the University of Toronto. A self-confessed political junkie, she has worked in the back-rooms for several Ontario premiers. In addition to a number of other community contributions, Sally Barnes served a term as president of the Ontario Council on the Status of Women. She is a former business colleague of Doppler’s Hugh Mackenzie and lives in Kingston, Ontario. You can find her online at sallybarnesauthor.com
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