Premier Francois Legault could hardly muster the enthusiasm to wish Quebecers a happy new year on December 30, after announcing the return of a curfew beginning New Year’s Eve. His demeanor reflected the frenetic pace at which his government had been reacting to the Omicron variant, which has since swelled into a monstrous wave that has left our hospitals near drowning in under two weeks.
No government could have predicted Omicron’s arrival or virulence, but it is now clear that we were haplessly unprepared. If we thought we had a functional playbook to outmaneuver COVID-19, this variant changed the rules overnight. Let’s hope, as announcements are made over the coming days concerning further restrictions on the unvaccinated and the return to school, that the government becomes more conscious of its messaging.
It is hard to know what to think when our health minister is pleading with Quebecers to reduce contacts, while the education minister insists that we can safely allow our least-vaccinated population to gather in elementary school classrooms. There is no question that online learning is placing a huge strain on teachers, students, and families, but I can’t see how a return to in-person learning doesn’t immediately worsen the situation.
At the same time, it is abundantly clear that we need to change how we are reacting to this virus, because after nearly two years, we haven’t got a grip. There are lessons to be learned here, but we need to move past scapegoating, we need to rethink our measures, we need to make sure access to vaccines is equitable, and we need to be better prepared for variants. Right now, however, the cruel reality is that we need to make sure our healthcare system rides out this wave without capsizing.