It’s been just over two years since the very first case of COVID-19 was detected in Canada, right here in Toronto — and my oh my how, things have changed since that time.
Back in January of 2020, we called the contagious and deadly respiratory illness simply “the coronavirus” — which, while not inaccurate, feels simplistic these days with so much more known about the virus (SARS-CoV-2) and its ever-emerging variants.
Canada has since recorded over three million cases of COVID-19, more than 32,000 of them fatal, while Ontario had recorded 1,021,436 cases of the disease as of Jan. 27.
Nearly 4,000 deaths (out of 274,044 cases) in Toronto alone have been attributed to COVID-19 and more than 11,000 in Ontario, but these numbers are no longer rising at the worrisome pace that promped yet another round of restrictions to be implemented on Jan. 5.
According to Ontario health officials, hospitalizations and cases in the intensive care unit are in fact starting to go up “at a slower pace than we’ve seen in the previous weeks,” opening the door for a “new, phased plan” for reopening to begin on Jan. 31 at 12:01 a.m.
Could this, at long last, be it? Are we done with COVID lockdowns?
Only time will tell, but many experts have resigned to the fact that we can’t completely eliminate this virus from existence and that, in light of the widespread availability of vaccines, it’s time to start learning to live with COVID-19.
“I think we have to understand, with Omicron, that we can’t eliminate this threat — that in fact we have to learn to live with it,” said Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Keiran Moore during a press conference on Thursday when discussing reopening plans.
“We’re trying to reduce our risk, but we cannot eliminate the risk in every aspect of our lives. We have to have a balanced approach as a society against this threat.”
Moore championed the everyday actions we’ve all been taking over the past two years, such as frequent hand washing, masking and staying home when sick, as solid ways to continue offsetting the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks.
“As well, we now have the benefit of very good vaccines,” he said. “Two is good, three is certainly better. I encourage anyone to get their third dose.”
More than 91.7 per cent of Ontarians over the age of 12 have now recieved one dose of a Health Canada-approved COVID-19 vaccine, according to Moore, while 89.1 per cent are considered fully immunized.
“As a government, we’re opening up in a very cautious and slow manner to try to protect our communities as well and the health system. We’ve been slow, steady and cautious in Ontario and that has always done us well, and individuals should have that same approach… adhere to all the best practices you can to reduce your personal risk and the risk of those around you.”
When asked about critics who’ve contended that any reopening at this point jeopardizes the health and safety of Ontarians, Moore said that it is important to consider all of the factors at play.
“I want us to have a balanced, proportioned and data-driven reopening and, in the face of Omicron, I absolutely think we have to start to understand that we have to learn to live with this virus.”
“We’ve let our lives be controlled for the last two years, in a significant amount of fear, and now we’re gonna have to change some of that thinking,” continued Moore.
“We’ve got vaccines that are safe and effective, the third dose is proving to be exceptionally protective and… we now have oral antiviral outpatient therapies. The epidemic is evolving, we’re getting new interventions.”
Ontario’s top doc once again underscored the importance of balance, saying “we have to look at the mental, the physical, the social, the economic and the educational impacts that this virus has had on our children and our businesses, and learn from the last two years that sometimes we were too cautious.”
“It’ll never be exactly right for everybody and it’s healthy to have debate, but we do have to have a balanced response to this virus and learn to live with it.”