As this dumpster fire of a year staggers to a close, I am hard pressed to find anything positive to say as I look back on the surreal events that we have just lived through. As we celebrated the holiday season twelve months ago, who would have thought that when 2020 rolled around, a microscopic mutant virus from a remote corner of China that few people had ever heard about, would spread like wildfire around the globe and cause our complacent, comfortable world to come to a virtual standstill. Even worse, as we near yet another New Year, there is still a great deal of uncertainty as to when this once-in-a-lifetime ordeal will end.
A year into the pandemic, we are still unable to effectively deal with this microbial invader. Although the medical and scientific community has come up with some promising vaccines, the Canadian government authorities have stated that it could take up until September of 2021 before enough Canadians will be able to receive the vaccine to stop the virus’ deadly spread. In the meantime, the number of new cases and the associated death toll continues its inexorable climb.
Ironically, the worst hit country is the United States, arguably the wealthiest, most technologically advanced nation on this planet. As I write this, another three thousand Americans will die today because of COVID. Another two hundred thousand will become infected. In many states, the hospital systems have become seriously overloaded and are reaching their breaking point. It all demonstrates how political incompetence can easily trump scientific proficiency and make a bad situation immeasurably worse.
Canada is faring somewhat better on a per capita basis, but the statistics here are still grim. We are seeing some six thousand new cases every day, with about a hundred twenty fatalities. Ukraine is faring much worse, with some thirteen thousand new cases and three hundred deaths every day. Globally, we are seeing close to a million new cases and thirteen thousand deaths each and every day. The numbers are staggering, yet we have been pummeled so much for so long with these sad statistics that many of us have become almost numb to the sad reality they represent.
Regrettably, the reaction to all of this by many people has often followed the classical model of how we initially deal with grief or major tragedies, namely denial. Spurred on by the delusional rhetoric of people like Donald Trump, many have succumbed to the fallacy that COVID really isn’t serious, that its fatality rate and effects have been overblown, that the whole thing is just a conspiracy to further limit our rights and freedoms. Too many folks would rather believe unsubstantiated and dangerous ideological fiction, rather than the facts and reality that is in front of their noses.
Even worse are those, particularly among the young and less vulnerable, who accept the reality of COVID’s consequences but who reject the need for imposing restrictions because of the economic harm such restrictions cause. In other words, they are more than willing to accept the deaths of thousands if not millions of the weak and vulnerable, rather than sacrifice any of their economic well-being. The moral implications of prioritizing money over lives is more than a little disturbing.
What is also disturbing is the fact that the imminent arrival of COVID vaccines has re-invigorated the activities of the misinformed and dangerous anti-vaxxers, who view all vaccines as some devious conspiracy by the “deep state” to control our minds. For vaccines to be effective, a minimum critical mass of the total population needs to be inoculated in order to stop the spread of the virus. If sufficient numbers of the population decline to be vaccinated, then any efforts to halt the spread of the virus will prove futile.
Stopping COVID will require a disciplined concerted effort on the part of both governments and the general population. It will require us to temper our emotions, refrain from ideological speculation and fantasies, deal with the facts, and act as responsible, rational individuals with a clear sense and appreciation of the value of the lives of all human beings. Our society as a whole is facing a crucial test of both our abilities to deal with an existential crisis, as well as the strength of our moral and ethical beliefs. We cannot afford to fail.