Opinion

In every possible way, this family would qualify as model citizens during the COVD-19 pandemic.

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In every possible way, this family would qualify as model citizens during the COVD-19 pandemic.

They have been my good friends for a long time. As a result, I know this family operates well within the rules set down by public health orders: no barbecues with other households; masks and clean hands are de rigueur; only going out for work and essentials; and getting vaccinated as quickly as the system will allow.

And yet, three of four family members were infected with COVID-19 in the last month.

The vector in this case was the eldest child, in his early 20s, believed to be exposed to the novel coronavirus at his part-time job. Even though he wears a face covering religiously while at work, and had been vaccinated three days earlier, he got quite ill and spread it to his mother (who was two days away from being vaccinated) and younger sister.

The father, vaccinated 10 days before the exposure, was spared.

This experience both reminds us about the threat posed by COVID-19, and the extent to which we don't really know how and where people are getting infected.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p>

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister and, to a lesser degree, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin, vigorously attribute the third wave of COVID-19 to people violating orders and refusing or delaying vaccination.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister and, to a lesser degree, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin, vigorously attribute the third wave of COVID-19 to people violating orders and refusing or delaying vaccination.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister and, to a lesser degree, chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin, vigorously attribute the third wave of COVID-19 to people violating orders and refusing or delaying vaccination.

It's a politically convenient assertion that diverts attention away from the Tory government's objectionable pandemic response, and focuses instead on the role of individuals.

The problem is: most of us know people who are doing all the right things and still getting sick.

So, on what basis can Pallister justify his argument?

The most compelling source comes from hospital admissions.

Roughly 70 per cent of people admitted to hospital for COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Pallister described them as "Manitobans who did not bother to take an hour or two and go out and get a life-saving vaccine."

There can be no doubt some had no intention of getting vaccinated; roughly 20 per cent of the population would identify as vaccine hesitant, and it makes sense they would be overrepresented in hospitalizations.

 THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mikaela MacKenzie - POOL</p>

Roughly 70 per cent of people admitted to hospital for COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Pallister described them as "Manitobans who did not bother to take an hour or two and go out and get a life-saving vaccine."

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mikaela MacKenzie - POOL

Roughly 70 per cent of people admitted to hospital for COVID-19 are unvaccinated. Pallister described them as "Manitobans who did not bother to take an hour or two and go out and get a life-saving vaccine."

However, it's more likely an equal or even larger share of the hospitalized got sick while waiting to be vaccinated. Even though Manitoba has made progress in getting first shots into arms, there is still a lengthy lag for most who book an appointment.

Which brings us to rule breakers: how many people are defying public health orders?

That's really hard to say, because although Pallister and public health officials frequently cite rule breakers as a major cause of new infections, they almost never attempt to quantify that constituency.

(AP FILE/Mindaugas Kulbis)

We know, for example, slightly more than one per cent of all cases are related to travel, and half of all infections are acquired from someone in the same household.

(AP FILE/Mindaugas Kulbis) We know, for example, slightly more than one per cent of all cases are related to travel, and half of all infections are acquired from someone in the same household.

We know, for example, slightly more than one per cent of all cases are related to travel, and half of all infections are acquired from someone in the same household.

Roussin has occasionally said about 15 per cent of cases are related to "social gatherings."

However, Roussin has also said a "significant" proportion of total cases are categorized as "community transmission," which is epidemiological speak for no known origin.

What is "significant" in actual numbers? The province won't release that information, though there is little doubt it exists.

There is increasing concern the Pallister government is concealing key epidemiological data to conceal the threat posed at workplaces.

Early this year, the CBC obtained data that show about 40 per cent of cases were of an unknown source. For those cases where a source could be identified, the locations of greatest risk were offices, retail locations, health-care facilities, schools/daycares, congregate facilities, transportation and food industries.

Even as we suffer through the worst outbreak on the continent, Pallister has flatly refused to order a full lockdown.

Oddly, however, there is no workplace category featured in the data posted on the province's COVID-19 online dashboard.

At this stage of the pandemic, we can safely conclude it's not posted because officials would prefer the public not know, for obvious reasons.

Even as we suffer through the worst outbreak on the continent, Pallister has flatly refused to order a full lockdown. That would require the closure of non-essential workplaces and almost inevitably ramp up demands for government to provide more support to businesses.

In his desperate bid to contain expenditures, it seems as if the premier has forgotten the decisive action he took at the start of the pandemic.

On April 1, 2020, just three weeks after Manitoba's first confirmed case, Pallister shut everything down for a month. That swift action effectively limited the spread of the virus, and allowed the premier to spend most of the summer crowing about how Manitoba "beat COVID."

Pallister did not use the same approach for the second and third waves, stopping short of a total lockdown. The result has been thousands of new cases and hundreds of lost lives.

Pallister did not use the same approach for the second and third waves, stopping short of a total lockdown. The result has been thousands of new cases and hundreds of lost lives.

Failing to lock down the province in the face of a critical public health threat makes the premier look stubborn and incompetent.

Choosing instead to lock down data that proves the need to lock down the whole province? That's downright contemptible.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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