COVID lessons

We have now survived the scourge of COVID for more than year, and it would be an understatement to say that the experience has changed our lives dramatically. Its consequences have gone far beyond what many of us could have imagined when we first heard the news in December of 2019 that a mysterious “coronavirus” was creating havoc in some remote city called Wuhan on the Yangtze River in the middle of China.

Initially, there was little appreciation of the potential danger, and most people presumed it was just another flu variant that at worst, would be added to the annual winter flu season that we have gotten used to. What we found out in short order was that it was not just another type of “flu”, but a potentially deadly killer that spread like wildfire. Within a couple of months, thanks to our superb global transportation system and international mobility, the virus had spread to almost every country and corner of our planet, with devastating results.

This virus was a killer, but a rather eccentric one. Some people would experience few if any symptoms, while others would die horrible deaths within a matter of days of contracting the disease as the virus destroyed their respiratory system. Particularly vulnerable were the elderly, those over 65 years of age, who began succumbing to COVID in droves. The fatality rate for children and young adults was negligible, less than 1% of confirmed cases. For the elderly, the fatality rate grew exponentially so that for those over 80 the fatality rate was more in the range of 15 – 20% depending on the country. Those residents in seniors’ homes or long term care facilities for the elderly were especially hard hit because of how quickly the virus spread in such confined conditions.

As the pandemic spread, more ominous signs began appearing that, even if you recovered from a COVID infection, you could still be left with permanent damage to a variety of your body’s organs and life support systems. Even more distressing was the fact that the virus was mutating quickly, and new variants began appearing that were even more infectious than the original.

The bottom line is that despite all the efforts of governments and the medical community, more than 130 million people worldwide have contracted the virus, and over 2.8 million people have died of it. Hospital ICU’s are struggling to cope with ever-growing case loads, and medical front-line workers are approaching exhaustion as the pandemic continues to rage through a third wave, while countries desperately strive to vaccinate their populations as quickly as possible. As it stands now, it will likely be another year or so before the vaccination efforts internationally have reached the levels required to provide “herd immunity”, and the pandemic is brought under control.

The pandemic has taught us some painful lessons that we will need to address if we are to be prepared for future such pandemics which are all but inevitable. Following are a few that come to mind based on my experiences living here in the province of Ontario in Canada:

– Canada needs to develop its own domestic vaccine manufacturing facility, so that we are not totally dependent on foreign sources as we are now for our vaccine supply. Canada used to have a world class government-owned vaccine manufacturer called Connaught Laboratories, but it was sold off decades ago to foreign buyers, leaving us at the mercy of foreign vaccine manufacturers

– Canada, and Ontario in particular, needs to significantly improve the standards, inspection, funding and regulation of long-term care facilities for the elderly. The pandemic demonstrated how inadequate these are, to the point where they can be said to approach criminal negligence. This was shown to be especially so in private vs public owned seniors’ residences.

– the Ontario provincial government has badly mismanaged its pandemic control efforts. It has repeatedly imposed inadequate restrictions to curb the spread, has done so far too late as the infection rates grew, lifted restrictions far too soon despite growing case loads, and has allowed economic criteria to dictate many of these decisions rather than the advice of its own medical experts. There are some impressive cases of countries such as New Zealand, Singapore and Taiwan that have been extremely successful in controlling the pandemic and minimizing its damage, and we should learn from their example.

– there is a significant vocal minority here in Canada and elsewhere that still believe that the COVID pandemic is a hoax and that the restrictions and vaccines are part of some nefarious plot to rob us of our rights and freedoms. I don’t know whether there is much we can do about such ill-informed and paranoid thinking, except to ensure that our societal leaders and the media strive as much as possible to expose the fallacy and danger of such opinions, and counter them with the facts, materials and resources to persuade them otherwise. If they persist in such beliefs and indulge in risky behaviours, we should ensure that there are consequences to any of their actions which could endanger the health and safety of others.

Lastly, the most important thing I have learned during the course of the pandemic is the vastly under-appreciated importance of being able to socialize and have direct personal contact with our friends, family and acquaintances. This is what I think we all miss the most.