‘Learning to live with the virus’

Manitoba continues to struggle in COVID-19 fight

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

The Manitoba provincial government, led by Premier Heather Stefanson, has been giving every indication that it wants to move past the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Speaking at the recent cabinet shuffle, Stefanson declared, seemingly with glee, that “this is the first day of the rest of our lives.”

Politicians and public officials had said similar things well before the Omicron wave. In July 2021, deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal said “we need to learn to live with COVID-19 like other respiratory illnesses.”

Many public-health experts have been calling for different approaches to dealing with the virus. Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health and one of the world’s leading experts on COVID-19 policy, has suggested that most organizations (such as schools) should resume as normal with a strong emphasis on masking, vaccination and testing.

Critics of the provincial government say the government is keen to “learn to live with COVID-19” without implementing strong enough policies. Another complicating issue for Manitoba is the lack of testing capacity leading to inaccurate COVID-19 data. Furthermore, the healthcare system in Manitoba is under significant strain now, with many surgeries being cancelled.

Dougald Lamont, leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party and MLA for St. Boniface, says in an email to The Uniter that “Premier Stefanson made it clear her PC government has given up on protecting Manitobans and that they are on their own to learn to live with the virus.”

“It is clear that, for months, the PCs ignored public health and doctors’ advice to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, just as they failed to get ready for the second and third waves of the pandemic,” he says.

“Ultimately, this means Manitobans are paying the price with their lives, backlogged surgeries and high infection rates across the province,” Lamont says, adding that the “PCs’ decision-making, or lack thereof, has been reckless and irresponsible.”

Darlene Jackson, president of the Manitoba Nurses Union, agrees.

“The unfortunate reality is that Omicron has gotten away from us,” she says in an email to The Uniter.

“The resultant wave of hospitalizations, that has not peaked, will fall squarely on the shoulders of nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers,” Jackson predicts.

“Nurses who were already working at critically short staffing levels before COVID and have been stretched to the limit throughout and beyond will again be expected to do even more with less,” she says, noting that “burntout nurses have retired or left the profession to save themselves from the unsustainable.”

To deal with the surgery backlog, the Government of Manitoba recently announced they are considering an agreement to send patients to North Dakota for their procedures.

“Undercutting the public system, then turning to private alternatives when the inevitable and predictable occurs, does not honour Canada’s historic universal healthcare, nor the many nurses that have and continue to sacrifice to keep it afloat,” Jackson says.

Published in Volume 76, Number 15 of The Uniter (January 27, 2022)

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