I first heard about the virus – it was then called Corona like the Mexican beer – when we were in the Caribbean enjoying a winter get away. It was the beginning of March 2020, when a world-wide panic took hold of governments, the media and most annoying the airlines. Flights were cancelled, frantically rebooked just to be cancelled again; protocols were rolled out, mandates proclaimed and rescinded, leaving everyone in a state of suspended disbelieve and confusion. Is it Ebola or SARS, is it deadly and where is it? Contagion, respiratory failure and lonely, horrific death outcomes were all in the cards. Who has it, where does it come from, how do we safeguard against it?
We were stranded on a small island and suddenly we had to figure out how to get back to Canada. Trudeau told everyone to get back home asap but when Air Canada cancelled all its flights it wasn’t so easy. We made it back on the last flight out. The airport in Grenada was pandemonium with people literally falling over each other to get on their respective flights out. I have never seen anything like it. Nobody had a clue what was going on and a sense of panic, mixed with fear and confusion permeated everything. Finally, flying at cruising altitude towards Toronto we relaxed. ‘It’s going to be okay. Everything will be fine.’ Nobody wore masks and a few rows behind us somebody was hacking and coughing.
At Pearson we found a place on the 3rd floor, right at the end of the terminal, where we could bed down for the night. We were not alone and lucky to find a bench that wasn’t occupied. Never mind a hotel. We were going to camp right here, in the terminal, ready to catch the first flight home, to Vancouver, at 7AM. A taxi from the airport to Horseshoe Bay, a ferry ride, and we were home again. Still, we had no idea what was going on and all we knew was that some nasty virus was infecting the world, putting people in hospital and even into the grave and travellers like us into quarantine for two weeks. We hunkered down and isolated as best we could.
Within days and weeks, the conspiracy theories emerged like trolls and nasties, proclaiming everything from outright denial of the virus to achieving world dominance by a pedophile ring led by the Clintons from a pizza joint in New Jersey. Fake news, lies, denials, misinformation and apparently only Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un knew the real truth.
‘Masks don’t work’, Ms Tam, the country’s leading public health physician, proclaimed but then, a month later, mask mandates were implemented everywhere, along with safe distancing and restrictions in restaurants and line-ups at grocery stores. That’s when the toilet paper panic hit the malls like the whole population had the runs. Panic buying ensued and fights broke out in mall parking lots – not over parking spaces or drug deals but toilet paper.
We were allowed to form bubbles and clusters but not parties or celebrations nor funerals. We were told by a daily brief by our super-star public health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, to be kind, calm and safe. We learned new words and terms like social-distancing, flattening the curve, masking up, travel-shaming and lockdown; we became internet savvy hobby microbiologists and epidemiologists, disseminating statistics and numeric tables, comparing percentages of deaths and daily infections garnered from the Worldometer site.
Amidst a flurry of confusing information there was plenty of blame to go around. The Chinese created the virus in a secret lab or the virus jumped from rats into humans in the vile wet-market of Guangdong, or the Americans secretly created the virus in order to control world population. All along the WHO was kowtowing and knee jerking to the super-powers.
The simple fact was that this novel COVID-19 virus spread unimpeded by politics and borders, restrictions and lockdowns, claiming thousands of lives, especially amongst the elderly and health-compromised. Care homes became breeding grounds for the virus, carried in and out of these silos for the old by underpaid workers, relatives and well-meaning visitors. Endemic misery was exposed as a pathetic lack of societal empathy for our parents and grand-parents. Where was the kindness and calm safety in those ghettos for the old and needy? The old and sick were dying in droves but the virus eventually spread into the general community.
Offices closed, along with gyms, banquet halls, clubs, restaurants and stadiums. Millions started working from home and busses and subways loomed half empty and city traffic was light. Airlines cancelled 90% of all flights and cruise-ships were docked or scrapped and hospitals were filling up with compromised patients, many of whom were dying a lonely, horrific death. Stark pictures of cadavers loaded into freezer trucks in hospital parking lots found their way into living rooms from screens and newspapers.
Back then, in 2020 there were benefit concerts by celebrities, televised worldwide in support of frontline workers; every evening at 7PM we were banging pots and ringing bells in support of our healthcare and frontline workers who were working around the clock, clad in personal protective equipment, treating infected patients who were drowning in their own fluids. A cry went out for a vaccine and billions of dollars were instantly pumped into developing vaccines. Laboratories like Moderna, who had been working on a rn-messenger method for years, were suddenly pushed into overdrive to apply the technique towards this new virulent virus. The Russians developed Sputnik, their own vaccine, which proved to be not very effective and the social media trolls proclaimed that Bill Gates was trying to control the world by microchip implants as if he were interested in what you and I did. With unprecedented speed, drugs were developed and approved: Pfeizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson became household names. Rich nations bought billions of doses, leaving the poor countries to struggle and scramble against the paralysing virus and the shortage of available vaccines. At the same time borders were closed, airlines grounded and office towers became ghosts while everybody worked from home and moved to the suburbs and cottages. Governments rolled the $2,000-per-month Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB). Small town real-estate prices jumped and everybody seemed to be headed for the hills and inner cities became ghost towns. New internet platforms like Zoom suddenly became superstars overnight and the two-dimensional world of screen time replaced the real world of physical interaction.
In the summer of 2020, the rules relaxed and we were almost back to normal and then the second and third wave washed over the world and the restrictions, travel bans and mask mandates were back for the winter of 2020/21. Then finally in the spring of 2021 the vaccines rolled out and were jabbed into the arms of millions in a massive vaccination campaign. Within a year the pandemic deniers and conspiracy theorists morphed into anti-vaxxers and militant deniers of facts and science. They compared themselves to the persecuted Jews during the Nazi regime. How ignorance of history and science can rise like bile to the surface of social media platforms, driven like scum towards the alien shore by algorithms favouring shocking misinformation and hate is disturbing.
It seemed to me a no-brainer to line up for the jab, as most of us did, happy to get some protection. But a small, vocal minority decided that personal choice trumped (no pun intended) the common good and they mixed up personal freedom with a myopic selfishness and disregard for the community. All of a sudden, reason, logic, common sense and altruism were qualities and traits of an age gone by, the age of Aquarius, mostly populated by the aging boomers.
It is the prerogative of youth to experiment, to laugh death in the face, to oppose dogma, politics and authority. I get it. I was there in the seventies and eighties. What I don’t get is the complete denial and angry refusal to accept scientific facts and statistics and replace them with unproven theories and pseudo-science propagated by social media. It’s a communication breakdown in an age when information and facts are readily available. There is no dialogue, just shouting and finger pointing. Instead of majority rule, as in the over 80% of people who have taken the vaccine, we seemed to be coddling, appeasing and playing to the vocal and radical deniers and misanthropes.
The goal posts keep changing like the virus itself. Whole new fringe groups formed through the internet and aligned with extreme and libertarian factions and suddenly we were awash with unsubstantiated, opinionated claims and theories. Like the oxymoronic ‘Freedom Convoy’ in Ottawa of mostly white, angry men. I’m all for demonstrating and protesting but not with trucks, trailers and backhoes closing down neighbourhoods and borders. That’s called occupation. I’m afraid that this media driven, apparent success of these few but vocal and cultish extremists will be replicated whenever they are unhappy with a policy or public health order.
Within a year, society had morphed into the vaccinated and un-vaccinated. Like good and evil. Or like the Democrats vs the Republicans, like in the dystopic Stephen King novel: The Stand. Except the majority was bending and supplicating to a vocal and righteous minority. First, they refused the existence of the pandemic, then the prevention (vaccines) unless they got sick, at which time they needed treatment and clogged up hospitals. Across the world the unvaccinated accounted for 90% of hospitalizations. If these antivaxxers would only impact themselves nobody would care but their selfish behaviour stressed the health care systems, influenced politics and policies, all of which annoys those of us who heeded the call and did the right thing.
There are those who quietly go about their ways, caught in the middle, unsure of what and whom to believe, confused, afraid and suspicious of everybody and everything. The hesitant and vulnerable get pulled along in a maelstrom of hyperbole and noise emanating from every TV and radio, day-in and day-out. We cannot have a conversation that doesn’t include the Covid or the latest on the newest mutation. We’ve gone from Beta to Omicron and the Greek alphabet is not done yet. We need to accept that this particular virus in all its present and future mutations will be endemic and be with us for some time to come. Like the flu. We have only one sure weapon against it right now and that is the vaccine.
My advice is simple: vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate. Do it for the community, your neighbours, your kids and parents. Do it for yourself. It will make you feel better and more secure. Is it a guarantee against infection? As much as anything comes with a guarantee. Not even toasters or microwaves are faultless. The vaccines are the best we have but if you think Armageddon is just a virus away or that dying miserable when you can prevent it is in God’s infinite plan, then I don’t know what to say to you except: stay away from me.
Back in 2021 I had one question for those who eschew the vaccine for whatever reason. Is your life better now? Not being able to travel, go to restaurants, gyms, movies etc. must surely make you feel ostracised and discriminated against. Some even display the yellow star, comparing themselves to the victims of the holocaust. How ignorant and despicable. The choice is entirely personal: to get the vaccine or not. It’s free, it’s effective and it’s painless so don’t give me this crap about discrimination. It’s disrespectful to the truly victimized; it’s stupid and just plain wrong.
In a world divided by the haves and have-nots, by rich and poor, by religious and ideological persuasion, by education or the lack thereof and ethnicity, we now have this Corona virus to further divide us. A lot of the blame goes to social media which has supplanted discussion groups and dialogue. Every crack pot suddenly has a soap box and a bull horn and can amplify their message to drown out everybody else. He who screams and shouts the loudest must be right.
Families were in-fighting and life-long friendships disintegrated over the vaccines. Who would have thought that people would refuse to get vaccinated citing some hairbrained, unsubstantiated and unscientific conspiracy theories. I didn’t see that coming.
We have friends that we haven’t spoken to for over a year because they believe the whole Covid pandemic and vaccine rollout is a vast conspiracy by dystopian world leaders to control the individuals who are in bed with big pharma and are just stealing us blind. First off, you’re not that important and secondly, they know everything about you already. If you used your cell phone or computer or a credit or debit card or took money out of an ATM, then you’ve already been captured, identified, targeted and tagged. Fact is, every day you leave many electronic traces and breadcrumbs. In order to be truly off the grid, you need to hide in a cave or walk out into the desert with no phone, no plastic cards and no gadget or devises, not tell anyone where you are and use only cash. Does that feel safe and comfortable and do you think anybody cares?
We have much to bemoan with the advent of this virus. Personal freedoms and mobility were seriously curtailed and impacted. Many people do not do well with isolation, myself included. I need the interaction with other warm-blooded humans. I’m a lousy hermit, no matter if I live in a palace or a cave, I prefer to be around people.
I’m sorry for the divide amongst friends and family over the virus and the vaccine in particular. Will we ever reconnect, laugh and party as we did before Covid? I wish we could but I’m afraid that the divide will linger on. Our convictions and view of the world have been exposed and has polarized us in ways we never thought possible. We always had differing outlooks and even ideologies but we accepted those as normal human behavior. We agreed to disagree and found compromise.
Every day I read the news, even if they don’t seem to change. I’m a news junkie. I admit it. I feel the need to be informed but it often depresses me and makes me feel helpless and frustrated. Then Russia, led by the misanthropic, little man in the Kremlin invaded their neighbour Ukraine in February 2022. Suddenly the virus took second place and incredibly the world united in condemning the rouge invasion. 4 million refugees, 10 million displaced and made homeless, thousands dead and dying. This in the 21st Century? It’s a humanitarian and environmental catastrophe, perpetuated by a sociopath.
Then vaccine mandates were lifted due to the high vaccine rates and the toll on the healthcare systems seemed manageable. We could once again move around without vaccine passports or other restrictions and almost everybody went back to school or to work at the office. We were in Europe in the summer of 2022 and nobody anywhere ever mentioned the pandemic. Like it never existed.
To take the vaccine was an easy choice since it was first and foremost to safeguard those around me, the community, and by osmosis myself. The same applies to the booster which has become a necessity with the onslaught of Omicron in the fall of 2021, which some compare to a viral blizzard, once again plunging us into a dystopian existence with restrictions, travel mandates and rules. Despite being vaccinated.
Do the vaccines change the big picture? I think yes. My mobility and sense of freedom is certainly enhanced. Can we declare the pandemic over as death rates and hospital stays diminish due to vaccinations and recovery immunity? New variants and mutations invariably will pop up, taxing an extremely fatigued, divided and frustrated population. Just take a look at China which has locked down a third of its population in a frenzied effort to contain the virus, pursuing a failing zero-covid policy.
It’s a hard world for so many and we all need to take a step back and try and see the big picture. Dr. Bonnie Henry first coined the guiding principle behind her philosophy: be kind, be calm and be safe which has now morphed into recovery, readiness and respect. I think that sums it up nicely and I just wish we could all just embrace this creed.
P.S. Ironically both my wife and I now contracted the virus, even after having had our 5th shot but it’s like a mild cold. We dropped our Covid-awareness that we had one year ago The symptoms are mild and basically an annoyance but a reminder how virulent and contagious this intracellular parasite is.
Great summary of an historic time. Thanks