A convoy of truckers, dubbed by some the Freedom Rally, is driving to Ottawa to protest vaccine mandates. Thousands of protesters and counter-protesters are expected to welcome them this weekend.
Commentators often express surprise at how the COVID-19 pandemic became so political. I think it’s been a combination of two things. In the first place, the various lockdowns have had a huge negative impact on a lot of people’s lives. As I’ve said before, the fallout from this is going to be profound, and will be felt for years.
Then there’s the problem, if I can call it that, of COVID not being deadly enough. Make no mistake: we were lucky, given the poor response countries around the world had to its outbreak, that it was so mild. If you are under the age of 65 with no underlying medical conditions the infection fatality rate is 0.5% or less. The last time I checked, two-thirds of Canada’s deaths due to COVID were of people over the age of 80. The average life expectancy of a Canadian male is 80.
But it’s because the disease itself has been so mild that people have been given license not to take it seriously and turn it into political theatre (or just plain theatre). When Trump got back from his hospital stay after contracting COVID he originally wanted to stand outside the White House and take his jacket off to reveal a Superman shirt. That’s not being serious. Boris Johnson having parties in violation of his own restrictions on such gatherings is not being serious.
But why should we be serious when COVID was no big deal? Professional athletes like Novak Djokovic and Aaron Rodgers could afford to blow off any rules and regulations on reporting their status and condition both because they’re fabulously wealthy and because even after testing positive for COVID they were still able to physically perform at the highest level.
Look, if COVID had been a particularly lethal disease none of this would be happening. Everyone would be getting vaccinated. But because the stats are what they are people don’t feel personally at risk. Sure they might get sick for a few days, but otherwise what are the consequences?
And there’s the rub. A year ago I said that one of the good things to come out of the pandemic would be what we learned from the experience. Unfortunately, that can cut both ways. We’re lucky that COVID-19 turned out to be so (relatively) harmless. It wasn’t the Black Death, the Spanish Flu of 1918, or even SARS 2003. But given how mild it was I’m afraid that the next time, and there will be a next time, when we may have to deal with something a lot more serious, our immediate response is going to be influenced by our experience with COVID-19 and our skepticism of how the government handled it. A resistance to vaccines will be dug in. This may turn out to be one of the most damaging results of the pandemic.