Ontario Premier Doug Ford is finished with COVID-19, and it’s the rest of us who have to live with it.
“We are done with it,” Ford said yesterday. “Let’s just start moving on, cautiously. The world’s done with it, let’s just move forward.” He then went on to claim (quite incorrectly!) that vaccination is now functionally useless: “We also know that it doesn’t matter if you have one shot or 10 shots, you can still catch COVID-19.” Of course, and it really shouldn’t be necessary to point out any of this to someone who has been premier for the entire pandemic, while vaccination may not prevent you from catching the virus, it makes it substantially less likely you’ll end up in the hospital or die.
Ford went on to mention a real blast from the past bit of health advice: “We just have to be careful, make sure we wash our hands and move forward.” This wasn’t very useful advice at the start of the pandemic, but at least then we didn’t know for sure that COVID-19 is transmitted through aerosols. So, to hear it fully two years into this pandemic, well after we know how COVID-19 spreads, is fucking unimaginable.
And yet, here we are. The vaccine passport system ends March 1. Capacity limits are going away, too. Just about all that will stay are indoor masking rules, but who knows how long that will be the case.
It’s worth evaluating where “here” is, exactly. In Ottawa, where I sit, the area’s hospitals have yet to empty out, with 98 per cent of acute care beds and 75 per cent of ICU beds occupied as of February 11, respectively. Across the province, there’s a backlog of more than 330,000 surgeries, which had to be cancelled or delayed due to the pandemic. The emergence of the Omicron variant pushed hospitals to the brink once again. It will take us years to get past this.
It’s impossible to ignore that Ford is dropping the pretence he gives a shit about the pandemic at the same time as anti-mandate, anti-government protesters have taken over Ottawa, and have only just been cleared from the country’s busiest border crossing. The more he insists the accelerated loosening of restrictions is unrelated to these protests, the harder he is to believe.
But is it just about the protests? Well, not entirely. This week Ford acknowledged the thing many knew but had gone largely unreported in mainstream media: his daughter, Krista Ford Haynes, is anti-vaccine. She’s been posting all sorts of nonsense to social media for some time, most recently about her pride cheering on the convoy to Ottawa.
Pandemic measures “fractured us as a society,” Ford told reporters. “All of it has polarized us in a way that we could have never imagined. … I’ve experienced this in my own family; it’s been one of the hardest things my family and I have ever gone through.”
Yes, gosh, it must be so very hard to badly handle a pandemic by not doing enough, while at the same time having your own daughter (presumably) telling you you’re doing too much.
“Every single person, including myself, knows people that are unvaccinated. You know, sure there’s the rabble rousers, and then there’s just hard-working people that just don’t believe in it. And that’s their choice,” a pretty agitated Ford said. “This is about democracy and freedoms and liberties. I hate as a government telling anyone what to do, we just have to get out of this and move forward and protect the jobs.”
So now we’re done with COVID-19, whether or not the virus is done with us. And for me, with three shots, not terribly old and in good health, I can probably pretend everything is fine. But what about not-me? What about the countless people throughout the province who are extra vulnerable to infections, never mind ultra-transmissible superbugs?
I met a woman over the weekend as I walked around a counter protest here in Ottawa. She is a mother of two, and was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer in 2020. Think of how nightmarish your time has been these last few years and the sacrifices you’ve had to make. Now imagine how much worse it would be for you and your family with a diagnosis like that.
Still, she was out there blocking people from reaching the convoy occupation, to say thank you to all of those who had been following health regulations and helping to keep her safe. “You’re protecting me,” she said, “You’ve been keeping me safe. You have been, for me, the symbol of community, and humanity.”
Since the premier is bringing in his family’s experience, I’m going to bring mine in too. Someone in my immediate family was also diagnosed with cancer during the pandemic. Their life has shrunk to a tiny sphere. On one occasion, they had to go into the hospital because of what can really only be described as a completely collapsed immune system. The terror that goes with that, to have to go to an overstretched hospital in the middle of a pandemic without the ability to fight any virus, is overwhelming. And so is the loneliness of being left behind by government policies more focused on getting the economy going than keeping people alive.
There are tens of thousands — hundreds of thousands? — of people across this province who don’t have the luxury of just living with COVID-19. These are the people the premier is dismissing out of hand.
It’s not that there isn’t a scientific case to be made that the usefulness of vaccine passports has reached an upper limit — it’s what the province’s top doctor is trying to do. But the premier is decidedly not doing that. Ford is making an emotional case to be done with the pandemic, because it feels bad. And it does feel bad. But every day it feels bad is also a day we’re drawing breath.
What Ford is arguing is that our feelings are more important than the lives of fellow Ontarians. It’s outrageous, but at least family dinner will be a little more pleasant for him.