It’s become something of a cliché for those who have opposed COVID restrictions during the pandemic to say that the cure has been worse than the disease. At the early stages, it might have seemed like a flippant remark in the face of a peculiar contagion that proved to be unpredictable, but now the veracity of this view is undeniable.
Recently released data regarding hospitalizations and deaths inarguably suggest that the worst of the pandemic is behind us and that we should now begin preparations to treat the virus as endemic. However, the social and psychological impact of the lockdown measures and the environment it has created is going to stick with us for years to come.
The extremes to which things can go has been on full display lately as the country discusses what to do about those who have not yet received a dose of the COVID vaccine. The prime minister has already pondered in front of a live audience whether Canadians should “tolerate these people,” describing the vast majority of them as extremists, racists, and misogynists who are science-denying rubes. Sadly, a notable portion of Canadians has professed their agreement with this sentiment.
As a recent Maru poll indicates, 37 percent of Canadians would agree with the unvaccinated being denied publicly funded health care. Going further, another 27 percent said they would agree with the unvaccinated receiving a short jail sentence for “endangering others/overwhelming the healthcare system.” Additionally, another 61 percent said they would also agree with forcing the unvaccinated to pay a “monetary healthcare surcharge on their taxes of up to $150 per month.”
The Quebec government has already expressed its intention to go down the road of an unvaccinated tax, with such actions being buttressed by cultural elites promoting a culture of suspicion and surveillance. A recent episode of the talk show La Semaine des 4 Julie included a segment in which vaccinated children were asked their opinions on what to do about the unvaccinated. They uniformly claimed that “we should call the police,” to much applause from the studio audience. Whatever one’s position on the vaccine question, such spectacles are unnerving and using children in any shape or form to further one’s position is simply reprehensible.
On one hand, there is a subset of extremists among the unvaccinated who have done their own share to muddy the discourse on COVID, including their mindless protests at hospitals. However, the tendency is to lob anyone, even those with innocent intentions, in with these types in order to justify the dehumanization that has gripped the body politic in recent months.
After 19 months of putting up with restrictions, the impatience many feel over not getting back to normal quickly enough is understandable, as is the impulse some have to find a scapegoat. But alienating friends and family over their decisions regarding their health is, needless to say, not worth it and not even backed up by data.
If the vaccines had proved to be the ultimate tool for eradicating COVID in the way health officials dishonestly promoted them, perhaps this approach would at least make sense to some degree. Unfortunately, they have not and have, as vaccines usually do, only served as a valuable tool for preventing serious disease and death. As physician Norman Doidge put it in an insightful piece in the Globe and Mail, health officials and politicians misguidedly framed the pandemic as a war, which led them to put their entire focus on narrow positions and outcast those who questioned them, thereby preventing any valuable scientific debate. In so doing, they have done much to undermine confidence in the vaccines and other measures by providing fodder to their opponents.
This has led to one feature of the pandemic that has been both humorous because of its absurdity and dangerous because of its real effects on society. That is, how the pandemic—a very complex challenge that requires nuance and honest debate—became just another source of political and social identity for people and a way to ostracize others. Our politicians and health officials have too much personal stake now in being right and won’t risk collapsing the sense of moral superiority they have developed over the last 19 months.
The division and alienation this brings will be long-lasting and continue well after the pandemic is over. Getting past these social ailments has to be part of our recovery as well.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.