More than 100 protesters gathered outside the Law Courts Monday, mostly maskless, citing God and Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms as reasons to ignore the province’s COVID-19 restrictions.
On the same day, a fresh wave of COVID-19 patients was admitted to intensive-care units at three acute-care hospitals in the city, many with tubes down their throats, hooked up to mechanical ventilators and struggling to breathe; all fighting for their lives.
If only the protesters and the pandemic deniers could witness first-hand the suffering, the pain, the gurgling sounds of dying, hemorrhaging patients in ICUs, they might have a different perspective, those on the front lines of health care say.
The economy will recover and the churchgoers will soon return to their pews. But the dead will still be dead and the COVID "long-haulers" will suffer from any number of long-term conditions that could include lung, heart and brain damage. That perspective seems lost on some.
Manitoba's COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to climb this week, including among younger adults in need of critical care. The number of COVID-19 patients in ICU rose to 47 Tuesday, six of whom are under the age of 40. Last week, none was under 40.
The ICU peak in December, when government was forced to shut down most public-facing businesses and organizations, was 55.
The overall number of patients in ICU (including non-COVID patients) reached 129 during the second wave. On Tuesday it hit 108, well above the normal, pre-pandemic capacity of 71. It's unsustainable and it's going in the wrong direction.
So, what to do? Allow hospitalizations to climb further, postpone elective surgeries again and reallocate hospital resources to ICUs and medical beds? Allow more severe illness and death?
Those who work in hospitals say they can’t do a repeat of the fall. Front-line workers weren’t just stretched thin, they were asked to do the near-impossible: treat patients under unsafe conditions with ill-advised staff-patient ratios, while working forced overtime shifts. Some have since retired or quit. The province may not have the human resources for a repeat performance.
The message that hospitalizations and ICU numbers are climbing rapidly doesn’t seem to be getting through to many. Shopping malls are packed, parks are teeming with large crowds of people and many appear to be going about their lives in a semi-normal fashion. The virus — including new, more contagious variant strains — is circulating more broadly through public schools. A growing number of schools have been forced to move to remote learning. The province, however, continues to insist, without evidence (at least none that’s been made public), that the vast majority of student infections are occurring outside schools.
There has been no aggressive public messaging from government in recent weeks for Manitobans to change their behaviour, nor have there been any significant changes to public-health orders. It’s almost business as usual.
The anti-mask, anti-government intervention protesters have become more active — likely spreading the virus further — despite fines issued to violators. They seem able to gather at will, while thumbing their noses at the rest of society, in clear contravention of public-health orders.
Meanwhile, Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief provincial public health officer, and Premier Brian Pallister are doing little more than watching the numbers, hoping with fingers crossed that they don’t get worse. They are still betting that enough people will be immunized in the coming weeks that the death and destruction seen in the second wave can be averted.
With only 39 per cent of Manitoba’s adult population immunized with at least one shot (and a painfully slow vaccine rollout), that level of herd immunity is still far off.
As hospitalization and ICU numbers continue to rise, the Pallister government’s vaccination-versus-variants gamble is looking worse today than it did a week ago.
Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.