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Blame and Responsibility in the Pandemic Era: Part III

1 year, 9 months, and 2 days. That’s how long it’s been since Premiere Doug Ford officially declared a “State of Emergency” in an early attempt to curb the continued spread of the novel coronavirus. As non-essential businesses were ordered to close a few days later, every politician, public health official, and media outlet pushed forward the same messaging – “Just two weeks to flatten the curve.” A reasonable request, by any measure, when lives were so clearly at stake. At every turn, we were reminded that these were unprecedented times. Communities around the world needed to “do their part” for the greater good of public health; specifically, to protect those who were especially vulnerable to the virus.


 I don’t think I need to remind you what followed. We all know that two weeks became two months, which became a year, and now we find ourselves nearly two years into a pandemic that has clearly become endemic. Small businesses closed their doors – some, for good – while we wore masks, sanitized our hands, cancelled trips, worked from home, skipped holidays and celebrations with loved ones, took tests and, eventually, got vaccinated. In a city as entrepreneurial as Toronto, many of us felt the panic and defeat that spread like wildfire across our professional communities as the associated timeline of lockdown measures became increasingly uncertain. For freelancers, income streams were decimated, and government aid wasn’t nearly enough to remedy the financial loss of paychecks that would no longer arrive. For business owners, each passing week felt like another heavy-handed blow, slowly but surely driving the pandemic nail into the coffin of a once thriving business. Suddenly, entire industries seemed to be hanging in the balance, and government officials (along with many members of the public) didn’t seem to care. 

 At the same time, many of us became numb to what seemed to be an endless assault of fear-based reporting across every major news outlet and mainstream publication. Like relentless static on a TV that couldn’t be turned off, the background noise threatened to drown out anything else we attempted to focus on. Soon, social issues and political contempt began to boil to the surface, and as these tensions came to a head (both online and offline), there developed an ugly, unmistakable undercurrent of volatility and anger. It felt as though the pandemic and the associated fear and heartbreak had frayed our social existence to the point of breaking – and once it snapped, we took aim at each other. As the saying goes, “hurt people hurt people”, and that seemed to be exactly what we were doing. The pandemic had hurt us all in different ways, and we had begun hurting each other. 


 Over this time, cancel culture has reigned supreme, we’ve formed unjust conclusions about our friends/neighbours/colleagues while waging wars of anecdotal opinion, and censorship has reared its ugly head. Nuance has been abandoned in favour of polarized righteousness – rather than welcoming and encouraging scientific debate and critical thinking, we keep engaging in arguments of over-simplified morality that seemingly bully perceived outliers into quiet submission. We are all terrified of saying the wrong thing, or asking the wrong question, and being publicly associated with the wrong “camp” as a result. Dr. Peter A. McCullough identified this phenomenon as a kind of mass psychosis – we’ve unwittingly ushered in an era of “group think” that seemingly eliminates any opportunity for thought (opinion or fact-based) that deviates from the central, enforced narrative. And rather than considering those experiences that exist outside our own lens of understanding, we have weaponized responsibility for the pandemic onto anyone who doesn’t “fall in line”. We have minimized the sacrifice of so many, even at times when we could not possibly understand the consequence of that sacrifice, because it wasn’t one which we ourselves had made. We have betrayed each other, quickly and vehemently, and I honestly wonder if we will ever repair the damage we’ve done on the other side of this crisis. 


 Over the last two years, I’ve watched so many people around me lose everything – not just to the virus itself, but to the economic destruction associated with extended lockdown measures and the mental health ramifications of isolation and unchecked social cruelty. Friendships and families divided, businesses destroyed, bank accounts emptied, debts accumulated, lives lost, treatments postponed, and futures decimated. And now, after the last two years of “unprecedented” sacrifice, we find ourselves on the eve of another holiday season in which the public has been asked to shoulder the burden of pandemic consequence in the face of a new variant. We once again find ourselves listening to the (often tone deaf) address of politicians and officials – who have never once missed a paycheck and who have spent taxpayer dollars in an increasingly reckless manner – tell us that we need to sacrifice more. We jumped through every hoop, we swallowed back our hesitations, and we were promised normalcy if we just compiled. But is that what we got? Or have we spent two years crawling towards a goal post that is moved every time we get close to it, while we continue to follow the leadership of officials who seem incapable or unwilling to admit when they are wrong?


 Moreover, we’ve inadvertently created and subscribed to a landscape in which it is truly terrifying to speak up, or ask entirely justified questions about the motives behind a pandemic response that stopped making sense a long time ago. But let me tell you something – you don’t have to be a history buff or conspiracy theorist to express concerns towards encroaching government control and intervention. Power gained is very rarely given back, and many of the systems and controls being put in place “for public health” bear all the markings of top-down structures that will remain in place long after this pandemic. I would also encourage you to think critically about a government that seems happy to emblazon in-fighting, and who has used popular media (which they largely own) to turn perceived groups against each other and establish an increasingly segregated society. Calling attention to this isn’t a matter of being pro-vax or anti-vax – as I’ve said before, you can be pro-vax and still be against the use of a passport system that readily excludes individuals based on a personal, medical choice. You can also ask questions like: - If this is about public health, why are we not recognizing natural immunity?


- If this is about public health, why are we not discussing the importance of sleep, diet, exercise, vitamin D, stress management, and more? - If this is about preventing the spread of misinformation, why are we not holding media outlets/public officials accountable when they are caught fabricating stories, drawing incorrect conclusions, or presenting information in a misleading manner? - We are told to do our own research using qualified sources, but why are so many “qualified experts” being actively banned or removed from all channels/mediums that are considered “legitimate”? - If this is about protecting our healthcare system, why have we done nothing to address the labour crisis/mass exodus from the field? How are we supporting over-worked, burn-out frontline workers? What have we done to even attempt to address/solve our healthcare problem?


- If this is about protecting our healthcare system, why has there been virtually no discussion surrounding treatments of the virus? Why are we not doing more to ensure those who contract COVID don’t end up in the hospital? Moreover, why are we actively censoring discussions regarding available (and safe) treatment options?


- If this is endemic and COVID-19 will remain in our ecosystem of illnesses (like the cold and the flu) for the foreseeable future, why has there been virtually no discussion about the severity of Omicron? - If Omicron is not the first (or the last) variant of the virus we can expect to come up against, should we not have a better plan in place for the long-term? - If the passport system was really going to be abandoned in January, why would our government spend billions of dollars on creating a QR code infrastructure? - Why are we still using case numbers as the primary metric to make potentially devastating, population-wide decisions? 


- Why are we actively discouraged from looking into/speaking constructively and openly about the success of alternative response measures applied by other countries/communities around the world?


- Why are we not allowed to express concerns related to adverse reactions to vaccines, in the same way we express concerns related to adverse reactions to the virus?


- Why are we not encouraged to heed the claims and recommendations of big pharma under a cautious/critical lens, when these companies have billions of dollars to gain from each round of vaccinations? To clarify, this is not an anti-vax or anti-science stance. I don’t mean this to say we should inherently discredit or disregard these recommendations. But should we not be allowed to ask qualifying questions, especially where there is money and power involved? - If the vaccine efficacy wanes and has little to no effect against Omicron (68% of Omicron cases at the end of last week were among fully vaccinated individuals), and we already knew that the vaccine would not eliminate COVID or one’s ability to catch and transmit the virus, why are boosters, mandates and more restrictive measures the only proposed solution? - If vaccine efficacy wanes, and we aren’t allowed to recognize natural immunity, just how many booster shots will be needed? If vaccines alone aren't the exit strategy, what is? - Why has there been virtually no discussion surrounding how we will learn to (reasonably and safely) live with this virus? - If COVID-19 does not pose a threat to young children, why are we passing judgement on parents who are hesitant to vaccinate their young children in the absence of long-term safety data/testing? - If we are told to “follow the science”, why have so many of our response measures seemingly abandoned all grasp of logical/scientific reasoning? 


- If the masks, social distancing, quarantine measures, canceled plans and trips, extensive contact tracing measures, periods of isolation, mass testing, massive debt, vaccines, boosters, and passports haven’t “set us free”, what will? When will we stop accusing each other of being "sheep" or "conspiracy theorists" and ask – What is the end game here? I don’t say any of this to be polarizing or divisive – quite the opposite. I am entirely exhausted of the battle(s) we have waged amongst each other over the last two years. I believe in science as much as I believe in personal choice, and I believe in moral responsibility and decency as much as I believe in freedom and individual rights. I believe in the expression of compassion and empathy not in a selective manner; but rather, to all those who have been (and continue to be) gravely impacted by this pandemic. I also believe in nuance, just as I believe that critical thinking and freedom of information are integral pillars of a free and empowered society. Friday’s announcement felt, quite literally, like Groundhog Day. Was I surprised? No, of course not. Do I think it ends with reduced capacity and travel advisories? No. The writing has been on the wall, and after being on this ride for two years, it’s not hard to anticipate the next stomach-churning drop. I feel – as I imagine many of you feel – as though we’ve been continuously deceived and pushed around by those in power who continue to place the responsibility of this pandemic solely on the shoulders of the public. At the same time, I am heartbroken by the role mainstream media has played in the continued spread of fear and contempt in accordance with political agendas and posturing. Fear and anger drive clicks, and let me tell you, they will continue to cash in for as long as we keep buying into it. But more importantly, I am absolutely terrified of what is to come if we continue in this divisive, destructive direction. How many more businesses have to close? How many more lives and relationships will be destroyed? How many more jobs lost? How many more holidays and celebrations missed? How many tears shed? How many ultimatums will be given? Where will we draw the line? When will we say “no”? How far will we bend before we break?

We are trying to preserve life – but at what cost? What is all this for if we aren’t given any clear indication of how we will get back to actually living? 


Source:  Lauren Ramesbottom

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