Photo By: Glen Carrie from Unsplash

A lot of concern has been raised over the last week or so regarding the new Omicron variant, and rightfully so.

The new variant seems to be ripping through the unvaccinated population at a staggering rate, as well as those of us whose vaccine-based immunity is weakening. 

While public health units all over the world have begun reintroducing lockdown measures, including some here in Ontario, I would urge governments to cautiously consider moving back towards lockdown at this time.

While the numbers may support such a move on paper, the purpose or even value of going into a broad-based lockdown is somewhat lost on me, and here’s why.

Let me start this off by saying that I am not opposed to mask mandates, nor am I opposed to vaccines; I received both doses as soon as I was eligible and certainly intend on receiving my booster when I’m able in the new year. I also wasn’t opposed to the initial slate of lockdown measures we faced, no matter how difficult and frustrating they were to deal with.

However, I believe it’s fair to say that our approach to lockdowns is a bit of a failure. Not an abject failure, certainly many lives were saved by the efforts which is a good thing, but in terms of eradication of the virus (as was the initial intent of such measures), we very clearly failed. 

There are two bogeymen who are largely responsible for the failure of those initial measures, and that’s Doug Ford and Donald Trump (but really just the United States as a whole, as even under Joe Biden their government’s response to COVID-19 has been fairly lacklustre, albeit slightly improved). 

The announcement from Ford’s government of all of the businesses that would remain open under the strictest lockdown measures implemented in spring 2020 was a joke. At that point, the government squandered a lot of political capital that the pandemic afforded them to go heavy handed with the lockdowns to actually attempt to eradicate the virus in Ontario.

But even without Ford, our proximity and economic reliance on the United States, who certainly did not and continue to not take the pandemic very seriously, made containment efforts here in Ontario largely futile. For instance, even with the border closed for leisure-based travel, the number of exemptions that needed to be provided for essential workers, dual citizens, property owners, and many others made containment and eradication essentially impossible. 

Again, it’s not to say that these measures did not save lives, they certainly did. At a time when vaccines were not yet developed (let alone available) such measures made sense to, at the very least, limit the spread of the virus. Now, with vaccines widely available here in Canada, and booster shots already being put in people’s arms and more on their way in the very near future, what is the justification for similar half-baked lockdown measures? If our lockdowns haven’t eradicated the virus in the past and initial vaccine doses as well as boosters are readily available to Canadians, what purpose would a general lockdown truly serve that vaccines don’t already offer?

Additionally, while many many industries were allowed to continue operating under those initial lockdown measures, most of the service sector, which constitutes a large portion of our modern economy, was not. This was the case around the world. Because of the global economic shock that lockdowns posed, we saw record-breaking government stimulus being offered to both businesses and workers to try and close some of the holes the lockdowns opened and keep things afloat. These major investments, despite their issues, are what allowed lockdowns to continue without causing apocalyptic disruptions to the international economy (and even still we are facing some pretty major issues).

But now, with governments facing record debt levels and inflation being improperly pegged on COVID-19 stimulus spending, the political will for such spending has dried up. Any broad-based lockdowns then would likely not be met with the same levels of government support to help sustain them, likely causing major economic fallout. Given that likely reality, can we really justify another broad-based lockdown?

Before I close, I want to reiterate a few things for those who might assume I’m coming at this with the wrong intentions. I am in favour of mask mandates, physical distancing requirements, vaccines, you name it. I think any adaptations we can make to regular life to make it safer for everyone, especially those who are most vulnerable, are important and worth making.

It’s for that reason however that I am urging our leaders to exercise caution when it comes to reintroducing broader lockdown measures. We know that our approach to lockdowns does not eradicate the virus. At the same time, we also have widely available vaccines and similarly widely available booster shots on the horizon. So then I ask, what is there to achieve by reintroducing broad lockdown measures once again?

Additionally, while our economy was kept afloat by government stimulus during the initial lockdown phases, many of those important programs are no longer in place, and likely would not come back under new lockdowns given the fiscally conservative political narrative that has been cropping up in recent weeks. So would another broad-based lockdown be worth the potential unfettered economic devastation? 

It seems to me that we need to consider long term adaptations to our everyday life to combat the Omicron variant and others in the future, rather than looking backwards to lockdowns for the answer. Introducing a true national vaccine mandate would be a major move, two weeks paid sick leave for all workers, and protecting the rights of workers to be able to do their work remotely (and requiring employers to foot the bill to make that happen). Also, enforcement of existing measures has always been rather lacklustre, perhaps tightening that up would be a stronger long-term measure?

Whatever decision is made, I have no doubt that public health officials have the best intentions, and I certainly would defer to their judgment, as they are the experts after all. However, in regards to how we should approach COVID-19 on a long term basis, the answer should lie in meaningful societal adaptation, rather than going back and forth with broad-based lockdowns.