Europe’s woes are a stark reminder that pandemic policy is ultimately a game of expectations


History is turning Europe upside down again. As COVID cases escalate, the continent is in the throes of one crisis after another, triggering an ugly collision of public health concerns and social strife. Meanwhile, Belarus’s rulers, along with Vladimir Putin, have fabricated a destabilizing humanitarian crisis on the continent’s eastern border.

Canadians may be fortunate to see a slight ebb in our “fourth wave” rather than the exponential rise seen elsewhere, not to mention the absence of such threats from autocrats.

Nonetheless, experts keep reminding us that the virus is not going anywhere – there will be spikes throughout the winter and the holiday season. And as in Europe, these peaks will bring with them political and social crises.

Sudden lockdowns and vaccination warrants have created major problems in Europe. Mass protests are occurring across the continent. Hooligans sparked violent clashes with police in Rotterdam, and far-right media coverage dominated other large gatherings.

The Austrian chancellor blamed vaccine skepticism as he implemented a total vaccine mandate, the first Western country to do so. German Minister of Health offered a warning that ultimately “everyone will be vaccinated, cured or dead”.

The concept of collective immunity has come full circle to become a political dynamite, as leaders in current hot spots tackle the problem in different ways. The French government, seeing around 30,000 cases a day, has acted the same as ours – demanding proof of vaccination in many spaces, while avoiding drawing a tighter line.

In Britain, restrictions are virtually non-existent as cases skyrocket to more than 40,000 a day. While a senior government health adviser has presented this as a step towards achieving collective immunity, it could also be argued that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is unable to implement controversial measures while questions swirl around his leadership.

At home, we don’t need to see all of this as a warning sign, but rather we need to remember that managing COVID is largely a game of expectations. And these expectations must be firmly grounded in reality. Pollyannaish’s thought would only come at a higher political price later.

The closures, in the minds of many Canadians, would represent a political failure. Our vaccine uptake has been strong, but questions remain as to how politicians can or will act if we see a significant increase in cases.

Vaccination mandates are already a source of aggravation for the Conservatives, raising the topic over and over again – and in doing so, creating space for the People’s Party of Canada and other fringe advocates. Staying the course on this issue will not be an easy task for the Conservatives.

Incumbents like Justin Trudeau and Doug Ford are once again in the precarious position of handling another holiday season – and with it, another significant wave of the virus.

Shutting down the economy again would be risky for any leader, no doubt compounding anxiety over market indicators, inflation, supply chains and labor shortages.

In September, Doug Ford called the vaccine our “best chance” to avoid another lockdown, and it seems unlikely that the Premier – who faces an election in June – will risk upsetting Ontarians again with mass restrictions.

As Ontario sees about 600 new cases a day, Ford must tackle this problem and demonstrate that it is working proactively to mitigate both public health risks and public dismay.

Again this week, the Prime Minister took steps in this direction, with his government announcing its plan to roll out the vaccine to children aged 5 to 11 and retaining control of the proof of vaccination system by extending some emergency orders. until March.

Maintaining this independent but authoritative approach, while continually putting himself and his government at the center of immunization efforts, is the right approach for Ford and his peers.

The chaos in Europe has shown that drastic actions without adequate warning will spark deep divisions and further endanger public health, at a time when there are already more than enough fires to put out.

Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a conservative strategist. He is a freelance columnist for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @jaimewatt


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