Carry that weight

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The statistics which were released by the Ontario Government last week make shocking reading. In a praise-worthy effort to be transparent with the public, Premier Ford let us know how bad the covid-19 situation is, and, even more, how bad it could get. The fact that, without the current precautions that have been put in place, more than 6,000 people would have died before the end of this month will, I hope, finally get through to those people who insist on flouting the physical distancing requirements. Further, the fact that 1,600 may die even with those measures in place, is terrifically sad.

Across the world, we hear the same stories. Governments encouraging people to stay home and not gather in groups outside. And then there are the stories and pictures of people blithely ignoring the advice and having March Break parties, bbq’s, garage sales, or even children’s birthday parties. The sight of hundreds of people crowding on to beaches, or on walking trails in parks, makes me wonder about the sanity of the human race.

That is why our personal liberties are being cut back: for the safety of all, and in the hope that this pandemic might be at least curtailed. Just think of the figures: the Americans say that, even if people follow the rules “perfectly”, they expect to have between 100,000 and 250,000 dead by the time the disease is under control. Put it another way, closer to home. Last week, in this space, I noted that the death toll in Canada at that point was 60. This morning, Sunday, it has risen to more than 230. And it will continue to rise.

The tragedy is that there are people who will die unnecessarily, as long as they and others continue to ignore the basic rules of survival. The more comforting (?) fact is that the vast majority of those who contract covid-19 will have few or manageable symptoms. About 20% will have to hospitalised, and perhaps 1-2% will die. The current number of confirmed cases is 13,882, so about 1.6% of that have died. That is still too many, but it gives some sense of perspective.

Here’s the problem, though. One of those 231 may not be you, but it could be your mother, father, sister, brother, son or daughter. That is why you should be taking care, not just of yourself, but of your family, your community, your friends and neighbours. Premier Ford said it very well the other day, when he asked if a few drinks with your friends is worth a life. Or a visit with your grandchildren, or grandparents: is it worth a life?

All of this you will have heard before, perhaps, but it needs repeating as long as there are those who still just don’t get it. It is the reason why the government in this province has now made it illegal to put others at risk. In this issue, you’ll find the details of what you could face if you act irresponsibly. I read this morning that, in the United Kingdom, the Health Secretary has warned that, if people continue to ignore the precautions regarding physical distancing, he might ban all outside activities and bring in the kind of lockdown being imposed in France and Italy.

To be positive, Canadians have acted very responsibly, as a general rule, and the statistics reflect that. Canadians, we know, tend to be law abiding folk, with some social exceptions, and this has been an advantage in the crisis we are facing. But, and here is another stark warning: the big problems will arise if this limited restriction on movement we are dealing with today goes on for a relatively long time. The fear is that we get cabin fever, especially when the warm weather really comes along and we feel the walls closing in on us at home.

How long this will go on is unclear, although the Ford announcement noted that it could be 18 months to two years before the covid-19 infections are fully under control. That is not to say that we will be confined as we are now for the next two years. Everyone knows that such a restriction is simply unenforceable, and hopefully unnecessary. But let’s make sure that is not the case, and that, by accepting the current limitations on our freedom of movement, for the sake of others as much as for our own, we can get control over the pandemic and give ourselves time to find an effective medical response.

One other interesting thing to come out of this crisis: is anyone else impressed with how well Doug Ford has come across in all of this? Some leaders have grown in stature through these weeks, while others have visibly shrunk in reputation and character. When all this is over, the next elections, worldwide, should be something to watch.

For now, remember: This too shall pass. We shall overcome.

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