As the COVID-19 pandemic extends into a third year, many experts are expressing cautious optimism that Canada has flagged the need for a lockdown and extensive safety protocols over the past 24 months.
But after two years of dealing with an unexpected virus, they also say that we must be ready to adapt at any moment.
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While hospitalizations and other pandemic markers have dipped or stabilized across the country, virologist Jason Kindrachuk says the COVID-19 crisis cannot be considered until it subsides around the world.
“The history of COVID-19 tells us that we should prepare for the potential for another type of anxiety…. Let’s at least appreciate that we’ve been in this situation before,” says Kindrachuk, an assistant professor at the University of Manitoba.
“None of us want to take a step forward and end up taking five or 10 steps back because we are influenced by what comes next.”
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Jurisdictions began lifting public health measures last month, limiting gatherings, eliminating vaccine passports and mask mandates.
Ontario’s masking policy is set to expire at most indoor locations on March 21—two years since the US-Canada border closed to non-essential travel as the original SARS-CoV-2 strain spread.
The anniversary of the pandemic is at hand this week as many Canadians reflect on the events of March 2020 that changed perceptions of the virus from a vexed unknown to a real threat in North America.
The arrival of COVID-19 here heralded a transformational period, marred by stay-at-home orders and social distancing, and in two years the virus’s far-reaching effects have surpassed nearly 40,000 deaths nationwide – a figure few Experts say. Much more likely.
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The World Health Organization declared a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, the same day the NBA called off its season after a player tested positive. Ontario and Alberta declared a state of emergency on March 17, while British Columbia and Saskatchewan followed the next day.
Since then, scientific advances have led to the introduction of several COVID-19 vaccines and treatments to limit the strain on health care systems, giving many experts confidence to suggest ways to avoid future lockdowns.
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A new version may dwarf progress, but experts say a return to the more stringent measures of March 2020 would require a significant mutation for the virus.
Revath Devanandan, an epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa, is excited about how current vaccines have provided exceptional protection against serious disease, even though the virus has changed – at least to its current form.
“It is no longer the crisis of the virus that puts us at our mercy,” Devandan says. “We have the tools to lead a normal life … but it’s a matter of spending the right money and having the political will to implement those tools accordingly.”
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Devanandan says new versions will “absolutely” arise as transmission continues in the developing world where vaccines are scarce.
“Will those variants be troubling? We don’t know,” he continued. “But we do have vaccine platforms that can produce new formulations very quickly.”
Dr. Zayn Chagla, an infectious disease specialist at McMaster University in Hamilton, says science has developed at an “incredible” pace since 2020, but the speed at which delta and omicron waves have caught on means that over time Making different-specific jabs can prove to be. Tough.
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He says other vaccine technologies are underway, however, including efforts to create a pan-coronavirus injection that could protect against the current strain and whatever comes next.
“In a year or two, the next generation of COVID vaccines could be very different … and could complement our current vaccines by helping to prevent infection and be more stable against variations of this virus,” Chagla says.
As restrictions lift across Canada, there has been an emphasis on messages from public health and political leaders, ranging from the virus to learning to live with it.
The change has been controversial, with some speculating that political pressure – not science – is deciding how quickly some jurisdictions repeal the measures.
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Experts acknowledge that many Canadians want to return to a pre-pandemic lifestyle, but they stress that learning to live with COVID-19 as it moves from a pandemic to an endemic phase does not mean That virus is gone.
Devanandan noted that endemic diseases such as chickenpox and measles continue to spread at low levels. And vulnerable people remain at risk.
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“In an ideal scenario, the way to live with COVID would be… an extremely low level of endemism with outbreaks that do not pose a threat to society, the hospital system or most individuals,” he says, adding that COVID-19 remains a dangerous population. large proportion of the population, including older persons and immunocompromised people
Kindrachuk says the system is needed to ensure that vulnerable people are not left behind as society forgoes precautions.
This means governments and policy-makers should be able to quickly pursue and restart measures such as masking mandates if needed.
“An important part of learning to live with a virus is continuing to learn about the virus and adopting recommendations and protocols around that information,” Kinderchuk says.
“We are not yet at the point where this virus has become endemic.”
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