The annus horribilis that was 2020 is now in the rearview mirror – but when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic, things aren’t over yet.
Vaccines are beginning to roll out across the country, with vaccinations for the general population expected to start in April. But preventing a third wave from breaking out in the meantime still needs to remain a key priority for Canadians, says one expert.
In an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, Dr. Isaac Bogoch said that while he believes Canadians could start to see a return to normal in 2021, the reality is that they will need to keep holding down the fort first.
“It certainly is possible and we have to do everything we can to avoid that,” said Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist with the University of Toronto who treats COVID-19 patients, when asked whether a third wave was a possibility.
“I think we can avoid a third wave if we have co-operation between the governments and public health units with creating smart policy, plus people making the right choices for the components that are under their decisions, coupled with a rapid vaccine rollout plan.”
Late last year, Health Canada approved the mRNA vaccine candidates from Pfizer and Moderna and began rolling out limited initial supplies of those to front-line health workers and long-term care home residents as the second wave of the pandemic tightened its grip on the country.
While the vaccines have been hailed as game-changers by public health officials, leaders have also been quick to emphasize that a vaccine on the horizon won’t help anyone who gets sick between now and then.
“Getting a vaccine in a week or in a month won’t do you any good if you catch COVID-19 today,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last month.
“That’s why we need to keep working to halt the spread of COVID-19.”
Cases across Canada have been exploding for weeks, with more than half a million Canadians infected so far and roughly 15,000 dead from the virus, which presents a range of symptoms from none at all to loss of smell and taste to blood clots, respiratory distress, neurological problems and death.
Even for survivors, the recovery is often neither quick nor easy.
But the length of the ordeal has tested the resilience — mentally, physically and financially — of many Canadians as they make steep sacrifices to help limit the spread of the virus.
Many have lost loved ones without being able to say goodbye or mourn the loss in funerals, or postponed life milestones like graduation celebrations, birthdays, weddings, baby showers and others.
Even things as simple as a hug or high five remain out of bounds due to the fact the virus spreads by close contact and droplets in breath and air.
And while the year may be new, the question on so many people’s minds is the same one that has followed everyone through the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year that was 2020: when will it end?
“When do you think life will go back to normal? When can we go to concerts and hug our grandparents again — will it be 2021?” Stephenson asked.
“Yeah, you know what? I really do believe it will be 2021,” said Bogoch.
“I really think that maybe by the middle part of the year, when there’s a significant number of Canadians that have had access to vaccination, we’ll likely start to lift some of these public health measures.
“As we roll on to the latter part of the year, we’ll probably start to see things like larger gatherings allowed in indoor settings, larger gatherings allowed in outdoor settings, perhaps mask mandates being lifted, perhaps softening of the border between Canada, the United States.
“It’s not going to be like a light switch where they just turn it on and say, ‘OK, we’re back to normal.’ I don’t think that’s going to happen at all. But we’ll probably see a slow movement towards that starting when a significant proportion of Canadians are vaccinated.”