Like the whole Prairie region, Manitoba had an excellent COVID-19 experience in July. Daily numbers of new cases reached encouragingly low levels in this province, just as they did in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
By the start of September, however, the virus struck back with a vengeance in the two western provinces. Premiers Jason Kenney in Alberta and Scott Moe in Saskatchewan last week announced reimposition of restrictions they had previously lifted. Their hospitals are now desperately looking for ways to care for patients as the beds fill with COVID-19 sufferers in grave danger.
In May, June and early July, Manitoba was flying COVID-19 patients to hospitals in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Alberta because there were simply not enough intensive care doctors, nurses and other staff to care for them in this province. This week, the shoe is on the other foot: Saskatchewan and Alberta health authorities are desperately looking for help.
Manitoba currently seems to be sitting pretty compared to its Prairie neighbours, having last week reported less than 100 new COVID-19 cases each day while the new case numbers rose above 400 a day in Saskatchewan and exceeded 2,000 a day in Alberta.
Before Manitobans start feeling superior to their neighbours, however, it’s worth remembering that this province has often been a little behind the curve experienced in other provinces. Saskatchewan and Alberta may be showing this province the road ahead. Like night-time motorists on an unfamiliar highway, we should keep a close eye on the tail lights ahead of us because we’re probably headed the same way.
In all three provinces, the pandemic is being sustained by people who refused or neglected to receive the vaccine that is freely and abundantly offered by the public-health authorities. The same is true across Canada and the United States. The majority of people have accepted the advice of scientists and accepted vaccination, but a significant minority form their own opinion and expose themselves and their neighbours to infection.
That source of infection is a big part of the problem in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Since the same source of infection also resides in Manitoba, we may be in for a bad November echoing the COVID-19 wave that engulfed Manitoba 10 months ago.
Another part of the problem in Alberta and Saskatchewan is that those governments unwisely relaxed public-health restrictions before the danger was past. The masks came off, the restrictions on size of gatherings were relaxed, the pressure for vaccination was eased. This week, zig has turned back to zag, and the restrictions are back on.
Manitoba, having relaxed too soon last fall and again in the spring, has been more careful in the late summer this time. To the extent that public policy directs the course of the pandemic, Manitoba is better protected at the moment.
Public policy, however, goes only so far in curtailing the disease. That anti-vaxxer, anti-mask minority persists even as public-health restrictions wax and wane. Individual families and businesses still have to make their own estimate of the dangers they face and the risks they are willing to accept.
As a general rule, the advice of professional scientists who make their living fighting infectious diseases has proved sound during this pandemic. The advice of people who surf the internet for the latest quack remedies has not. Manitoba is between waves, but the virus is still among us.
It’s incumbent on the provincial government, under its current interim leadership and with a new premier-designate at the helm after Oct. 30, to ensure abundant caution and appropriate public-health measures keep Manitobans safe.