By Sue Tiffin

This week marks the anniversary of the time Canada’s first confirmed COVID-19 case was reported in Toronto in 2020, and this upcoming Sunday will mark two years since Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of the World Health Organization declared a public health emergency of international concern. 

“At the time, there were fewer than 100 cases and no deaths reported outside China,” said Ghebreyesus. “Two years later, almost 350 million cases have been reported, and more than 5.5 million deaths – and we know these numbers are an underestimate. Last week, 100 cases were reported every three seconds, and somebody lost their life to COVID-19 every 12 seconds.” 

While Ghebreyesus notes that we will be living with COVID for the foreseeable future, he also stresses that that shouldn’t mean we accept a high number of deaths “from a preventable and treatable disease,” that we do not “accept an unacceptable burden on our health systems,” or that we “ignore the consequences of long COVID, which we don’t yet fully understand.” He said it’s dangerous to assume that Omicron will be the last variant of the virus, or that we are in the end days of the pandemic. Instead, he said this week, “ending the acute phase of the pandemic must remain our collective priority.”

We don’t feel to be moving forward in a collective right now.  

What brought us together at the time the pandemic was first declared was our focus on helping each other despite the communal sacrifices we would have to make. We all agreed we should protect the vulnerable – especially the elderly, the disabled, those with underlying conditions – in any way we could, and that we should protect those working on the frontlines, especially those in the healthcare sector. Remember the hearts and rainbows on windows, the clanging of pots out of doors, the reminder for empathy with sentiments like, “we’re all in the same boat but not the same storm”? While since then most of us have worn masks, and then better masks; received vaccines, and then more vaccines; and continued to sometimes put our lives outside the home on hold in an attempt to do what we can to help, nothing has actually changed regarding our need to focus on our sense of humanity –  pandemic or no pandemic.

And yet this week has been hard for many. Regardless of what you think about why someone might be raising their voice in protest, even if you don’t agree with the message, it is frustrating when people do not know how to organize well or do so in a way that is harmful to others. There are ways first in which you can raise concerns, usually going through a process of steps to challenge a decision or policy, or lack thereof. We have all had the opportunity to learn from those whose lives are actually at stake, who have taken to the street to say ‘no more.’ They don’t go to people’s homes. They don’t make people feel more worried than they already are about sending their kids to school. They don’t disrupt the important work happening at hospitals. They don’t intend to purposefully divide, to make personal attacks about a person rather than a system. They want the same rights and treatment as others, and in speaking up for themselves, they lift others up. They cause us all to rise up. 

While there are restrictions in place, they really are the bare minimum that we can do to protect each other, to live in a community with each other. Wear a mask to protect others. Get vaccinated to protect others. If you can’t or you don’t want to, that doesn’t mean you aren’t free – most would suggest you’re quite free to choose whether or not you want to get a vaccine for example, which is why you might be unvaccinated right now. 

If you have the energy so many of us are lacking right now to be spreading a message, consider that message. Think about what you’re doing or saying, what you’re spreading on social media, what you’re applauding or supporting – and how it’s helping our community and those we once collectively agreed to protect.