Across Canada, COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted. Despite the recent devastation caused by the Omicron wave, which is not completely over, provinces including Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Manitoba have announced that they are scrapping measures including capacity limits, mask mandates, and vaccine passports.
In order to justify these decisions, governments are changing their tunes. From official after official, we are hearing the same line: COVID is here to stay, so it is time to “learn to live with the virus”.
Justifying why Saskatchewan did not implement additional COVID measures during a serious surge in late January, Premier Scott Moe followed the “learn to live with it” line:
“COVID is not going away. It’s going to remain an ongoing concern for all of us, but we live with other diseases in our communities and province that are also ongoing concerns. We do this without locking down, without taking away people’s freedoms and without disrupting everyone’s life.”
Also in late January, Ontarians started to hear similar rhetoric. Dr. Kieran Moore, the province’s chief medical officer of health, remarked during a news conference, in a statement that regurgitated popular right-wing talking points, that people “will 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 going to have to change some of that thinking”.
Predictably, there has been little elaboration on what “learning to live with” COVID means. Given that provinces are scrapping mask mandates, capacity limits, vaccine passports, and important methods of data collection, it is difficult to see how anyone is meant to accurately assess the risk they face while going about their lives. It therefore could not be clearer that these measures are being lifted not because it is truly safe to do so, but instead in the interest of the bosses’ profit margins. The ruling class has decided to stop worrying and love the virus. In doing so, they have completely abandoned disabled people.
Throughout the Omicron wave, government officials and the media have shamelessly downplayed COVID deaths. There has been much emphasis placed on the greater risks faced by immunocompromised and medically fragile people, but often in a way which seems intended to soothe the general populace: “Don’t worry, only those other people are getting sick! You will be fine.” In Ontario, Dr. Moore has talked about “refining” the process of COVID death reporting to distinguish whether deaths are “caused by” or “associated with” COVID. He has not elaborated upon exactly what this means, but when it is reported alongside statements about how Omicron is “disproportionately causing destablization of medically fragile individuals”, it is easy to read “refinement” as meaning that the deaths of people with pre-existing conditions exacerbated by COVID infections may no longer be counted as COVID casualties, completely disregarding that these people would still be alive if they hadn’t contracted the virus.
The elephant in the room, which the ruling class obviously refuses to acknowledge, is that data from Statistics Canada shows that almost 40 per cent of Canadians over the age of 18 have one or more underlying conditions which elevates the risks associated with COVID infection! Some of these underlying conditions may be permanent conditions, while others may be at risk due to treatments such as chemotherapy. Given that some underlying conditions are temporary while others are chronic, it is difficult to get a true grasp on the numbers; it is possible that the numbers reported by StatsCan are in fact conservative.
How are we meant to “learn to live with” COVID when the elevated risk faced by one in three Canadian adults is being ignored by multiple provinces in favour of the profits of big businesses? How are disabled, immunocompromised and otherwise high-risk people supposed to make informed decisions about their safety when data is not even being collected, let alone reported, and mandates are being scrapped with little justification? In this context, “learn to live with it” sounds a lot more like “accept your fate already!”
One Montrealer with Addison’s disease spoke to the CBC about how Quebec’s abrupt reopening made her feel “expendable”. She expressed that she, too, was fed up and frustrated after two years of lockdowns, but that she cannot take the risk of going back to normal without accurate data about community transmission. “I agree that some things need to happen,” she said. “We need to learn to live with it. But live with it—not get sick and die with it, you know?”
But the ruling class does not really care about the lives of the disabled, or of the working class as a whole. If they did, they would’ve long ago implemented the measures that would actually save lives: massive re-funding of our collapsing health-care systems, substantial wage increases and hazard pay for nurses and other frontline workers, investment into infrastructure to improve ventilation, the lifting of vaccine patents and massive global distribution of doses to prevent new variants—the list goes on. Instead, they have spent the last two years stumbling from extreme to extreme, with the singular focus of protecting profits as much as possible. Now, they have arbitrarily decided that a deadly virus which continues to overwhelm hospitals and spread through communities is endemic and that it is time to continue with business as usual.
We say no to the murderous “learn to live with it” policies of the ruling class. We demand workers’ control of health and safety, massive funding of effective pandemic control measures, and accurate community data. We will not sacrifice the lives of disabled people for the profits of the bosses.