Easing restrictions is a precarious prospect

 

During code-red restrictions, when good news is as rare as professionally styled hairdos, Manitobans have been informed we saved 1,700 lives. Locked-down citizens will be happy to hear of positive payoffs from their sacrifices, but it’s far too early to meet on the street and share still-prohibited congratulatory hugs.

The tally of COVID-19 fatalities prevented by the current lockdown is based on government modelling, using data from the period from Nov. 12 to Jan. 3. The figure was presented last Friday by chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin as encouragement that the legislated halt of public activities has had a beneficial impact.

The statistic was a heartening but selective tidbit presented in isolation, without the context of more comprehensive modelling that the province has consistently refused to disclose.

<img src="https://globalexpressnews.com/bucufuh/uploads/2021/01/NEP9357957.jpg" alt="MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin

“>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin

The attempt at applauding Manitobans for saving lives comes against the unfortunate backdrop that abundant illicit gatherings over the holiday season led to a spike in case numbers, and that some Manitobans still defy the rules — including about 60 anti-maskers who gathered in Steinbach over the weekend to protest code-red sanctions.

It’s true that the vast majority of Manitobans are obeying the rules and thus saving lives by slowing the spread of the virus. But it would be closed-eyed optimism to ignore the Manitobans — they’re relatively few in number, but hazardous in impact — who continue to violate rules. These scofflaws aren’t saving people, they’re endangering them.

It’s likely Dr. Roussin introduced the modelling statistic about saved lives with the dual purpose of congratulating the Manitobans who are living within the lockdown limits, and also shifting the outlook of those Manitobans who are not.

It’s better to focus on how adherence to rules is saving fellow Manitobans, rather than grumbling about how oppressive rules prohibit many of our liberties. Instead of chafing at restrictions, we can accept that our sacrifices have served a higher purpose.

Such a shift in mindset will be particularly important as the restrictions are expected to be lifted to some degree. The latest extension of the public order expires Friday, and officials have indicated there will be a modest easing of the extreme lockdown the province has endured for the past two months.

What activities will resume, and how? The province offered a few clues on Tuesday, and the final answers will be of great interest to many people — including the more than 37,000 people who completed the government’s online survey regarding preferred restriction changes.

It’s better to focus on how adherence to rules is saving fellow Manitobans, rather than grumbling about how oppressive rules prohibit many of our liberties.

If Manitobans feel apprehensive about the lifting of the restrictions, their concern is warranted by recent history. When restrictions were eased in the late spring and summer to boost the economy, under the province’s so-called Restart Manitoba campaign, it was nothing short of an epidemiological disaster.

That precipitous lifting of restrictions allowed COVID-19 cases to soar until Manitoba was, per-capita, among the worst in Canada, necessitating the code-red lockdown which the province may now partially lift.

A precarious tension remains. While Dr. Roussin congratulated Manitobans for saving lives, it’s also important to save the livelihoods of people and businesses impacted by restrictions, to save the mental health of locked-down people who are suffering greatly, and to save Manitoba’s entertainment and sport facilities that remain shuttered.

Restrictions must be lifted, but only in prudent increments. While the costs of staying locked down are high, Manitoba knows all too well the cost of opening up too much too soon.