Editorial

“Pandemic of the unvaccinated” has become a catchphrase for the current state of the COVID-19 crisis, in which unvaccinated populations are driving a deadly fourth wave in neighbouring Saskatchewan and Alberta. And now, as chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin made clear this week, the fourth wave is upon Manitoba, too.

"Pandemic of the unvaccinated" has become a catchphrase for the current state of the COVID-19 crisis, in which unvaccinated populations are driving a deadly fourth wave in neighbouring Saskatchewan and Alberta. And now, as chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin made clear this week, the fourth wave is upon Manitoba, too.

Public-health officials have been warning for months about a looming fourth wave; conceding it’s actually here should create a renewed sense of urgency — something that was notably absent from the province’s tepid response to the second and third waves. Former premier Brian Pallister’s competitive fixation on touting Manitoba as "first" or "best" in its pandemic response — and, in particular, in reopening the economy — produced disastrous but predictable results.

Humbled by those ordeals, and with the self-styled Team Manitoba "coach" no longer at the helm, there’s a chance to mitigate the fourth wave’s impact. Ironically, the way to do it might be by learning from the mistakes of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, who clearly didn’t — or wouldn’t — learn from Mr. Pallister’s calamitous errors during the previous two waves.

Mr. Kenney is holding fast to a wait–and–see approach, despite calls from medical professionals for decisive action to rescue Alberta’s health system from a worst–case scenario its own warning system has forecast.

Mr. Kenney is holding fast to a wait-and-see approach, despite calls from medical professionals for decisive action to rescue Alberta’s health system from a worst-case scenario its own warning system has forecast: all 380 ICU beds filled. Meanwhile, Saskatchewan’s chief provincial public health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, warned of a "fall and winter of misery" — but then didn’t announce any new measures to help prevent it.

Lest we be too smug, Manitoba has its own unvaccinated crisis brewing. Southern Health, which includes the rural municipality of Stanley, has the dubious distinction of having the lowest per-capita test rate in the province, as well as a meagre 24 per cent vaccination rate. Almost 50 per cent of new COVID-19 cases are in Southern Health, which accounts for just 15 per cent of the province’s population.

It is tempting, perhaps, to believe that Southern Health is its own unvaccinated bubble. But what happens in Southern Health is not confined to that region; behaviour there will be felt in other areas of the province — particularly centres with ICU beds.

But what happens in Southern Health is not confined to that region; behaviour there will be felt in other areas of the province ‐ particularly centres with ICU beds.

Fighting the fourth wave might be a bit easier in the wake of newly re-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s forceful statements this week about prioritizing for COVID-19 and imposing restrictions. What remains to be seen is how a new Manitoba premier — chosen from a field of two in which both have been reluctant to endorse proof-of-vaccination mandates — will handle the fourth wave as it evolves.

Perhaps the time has come to consider regional restrictions to address the Southern Health situation. Any such measures must, however, have enforcement protocols built in, as the current province-wide public-health orders continue to be flouted. The wait-and-see approach favoured by the premiers of the Prairies has long since proven inadequate.

Manitoba is not in the same state of crisis it faced this time last year, thanks to widespread vaccination and a cautious reopening that includes proof-of-vaccination mandates. A return to a full code-red lockdown is unlikely and probably unnecessary, but as long as the health-care system remains in danger of being overwhelmed, the entire province must invest in fighting the now-in-motion fourth wave.

From that vantage point, it starts to look a lot less like a "pandemic of the unvaccinated," and more evocative of another pandemic catchphrase: "We’re all in this together."