Opinion

Maybe it’s not negligence. Maybe it’s part of a bigger plan.

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Maybe it’s not negligence. Maybe it’s part of a bigger plan.

By now, it’s become quite clear that despite soaring infections that have put our hospitals under siege once again, the Progressive Conservative government of Manitoba is sticking with its traditional "least-restrictive means" approach to managing the current wave.

Severe social and economic restrictions are not being applied in parts of southern Manitoba where infections are alarmingly high. Faith-based gatherings in those areas are still being allowed in numbers that create unnecessary risk. Unvaccinated health-care workers are still being allowed to work in hospitals and care homes with regular testing.

Premier vexed over cabinet minister's vax status

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MIKE DEAL / FREE PRESS FILES						</p>																	"I don't make decisions on cabinet based on what I read in the Winnipeg Free Press," Premier Heather Stefanson said.
MIKE DEAL / FREE PRESS FILES

"I don't make decisions on cabinet based on what I read in the Winnipeg Free Press," Premier Heather Stefanson said.

Posted: 7:00 PM Nov. 30, 2021

Premier Heather Stefanson avoided calls Tuesday to remove a cabinet member who refuses to disclose his vaccination status, instead promising that everyone who enters the legislature will have to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 15.

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And at least one Tory cabinet minister who may be unvaccinated (he won’t say for sure) is being allowed to attend in-person meetings of cabinet.

It’s almost as if Manitoba has decided to simply let the novel coronavirus run its course, regardless of the consequences.

Although that may seem like madness to reasonable people, this is the exact kind of strategy that was floated by some scientists of questionable credentials more than a year ago.

The Great Barrington Declaration was, and probably still is, the bible for the anti-restriction/pro-natural immunity crowd. Published broadly in October 2020, the GBD argued that we could avoid broad social and economic restrictions by focusing our efforts on protecting the most vulnerable citizens. The rest of us would be left to acquire the virus and in that process, develop natural immunity.

The GBD ignored the fact that no pandemic had ever been conquered through natural immunity, and that even if the virus only attacked younger, healthier people, it would still trigger horrific collateral human and economic damages.

The GBD’s dream of herd immunity quickly turned into herd insanity.

COVID-19 does disproportionately affect older and sicker people. But it also attacks younger, healthier people who, while they may not die, still need hospital care and still suffer years of lingering and often serious effects. The health-care system is flooded right now with people who are not dying, but still need critical medical care.

Even with all this hard-won knowledge from 21 months of global pandemic, it’s disturbing how Manitoba and other jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom and huge tracts of the United States are managing the fourth wave in a manner that is alarmingly consistent with the plan outlined in the GBD.

Even with all this hard–won knowledge from 21 months of global pandemic, it’s disturbing how Manitoba and other jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom and huge tracts of the United States are managing the fourth wave in a manner that is alarmingly consistent with the plan outlined in the GBD.

While some nations continue to limit indoor capacity and maintain mask mandates, many others have slowly adopted a GBD-type approach and just decided to let people get sick in the hope the health-care system can survive long enough us to establish herd immunity from the novel coronavirus. You need only read the news to see the folly of that approach.

Most wealthier nations have instituted strict controls on facilities that house vulnerable populations along with intensive vaccination programs. And while all that has translated into fewer overall deaths in this fourth wave, it has not necessarily led to a lower overall burden on health care. Hundreds of people — the gross majority of them unvaccinated — are still flooding hospitals.

This most recent inflow of patients has taken the health-care system beyond the point of breaking.

Sometime this month, it is expected the backlog of surgical and diagnostic procedures will reach 140,000. That means nearly 10 per cent of Manitoba’s population is being forced to wait for surgeries and diagnostic tests that are critical to their long-term health and quality of living.

Chronic shortage leaves one in five Winnipeg ER and critical-care nursing positions vacant

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There have been some new hires, but their lack of advanced training limits the work they can take on and the types of patients they can provide care for. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)
There have been some new hires, but their lack of advanced training limits the work they can take on and the types of patients they can provide care for. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Posted: 7:00 PM Nov. 30, 2021

A chronic shortage of emergency and critical-care nurses in Winnipeg has left those working exhausted, frustrated and, in some cases, ready to abandon the profession.

More than one in five of those positions — 22.7 per cent — in city facilities was vacant in October, recent data shows.

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At the same time, front-line health-care workers are starting to break down. Statistics from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority showed that nearly 23 per cent of all emergency and critical-care nursing positions are vacant. That means nurses who are still able to show up are being asked to work more hours during the day and more days during the month to cover off the shortages.

Vacancies were a problem before the pandemic, but it’s not hard to imagine that the sheer stress that comes with front-line exposure to COVID-19 is making a bad situation worse.

And therein lies the fallacy in the GBD and the theories put forward by people who think social and economic restrictions pose a greater threat than the virus itself. Standing by and waiting for all unvaccinated people to acquire the virus and develop natural anti-bodies seems like a great idea until you start to account for all of the collateral damage that will accrue.

People will still get severely sick and require hospital treatment. Those additional demands on the health-care system mean that people who are sick from illnesses other than COVID-19 cannot get timely treatment. And allowing the virus to circulate among the unvaccinated is a sure-fire way to produce dangerous new variants.

The long-term costs of denying Manitobans basic surgical and diagnostic procedures may never be known, but you can bet that there will be lots of unnecessary suffering and avoidable infirmity and death.

There is no scenario related to COVID-19 where we completely escape suffering and death. This is a virus hell-bent on creating as much misery as possible. But we should ensure that we can look in the mirror and say with confidence that we’ve done as much as we possibly could.

Right now in Manitoba, that is not something we can say.

dan.lett@winnipegfreepress.com

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.