Politics

KINSELLA: Will Trudeau do better to protect us from new COVID variant?

The Liberal government must learn from its mistake and move quickly and efficiently this time

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Remember March 11, 2020?

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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 what was needed to communicate that it was real. It was really, really happening.

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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 killed, lives upended.

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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 iPhones more closely.

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The new variant — which bears the bland, antiseptic name all of the variants do — was being called B.1.1.529. They should call it Satan’s Variant instead.

All of the previous coronavirus mutations were diabolical — slithering, like snakes, around public health measures and personal immunities.

B.1.1.529, first detected in densely populated South Africa, was incalculably worse, in two critical ways.

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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.

Said Richard Lessells, an infectious diseases specialist at South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform: “This variant might have not just enhanced transmissibility, so spread more efficiently, but might also be able to get around parts of the immune system and the protection we have in our immune system.”

Read that again: B.1.1.529 may “get around” the immunity we have naturally, or through vaccines.

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The good news, of course, is that we know that masks work as well as vaccines. So does social distancing and regular handwashing. So does closing borders to countries with outbreaks — something now happening within hours, not weeks and months.

Will the Trudeau government learn from its mistakes on all of those fronts? Will it move quickly and efficiently, this time?

Much is at stake: Lives, economies, futures. Will Justin 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

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