Illustrated By: Samara Rahman

If you’ve scraped your knee as a little kid before, you know that it will turn into a scab. It usually starts itching after a few days. You’ve probably been told not to peel the scab, too. Now, from here, two different kinds of memories branch off. One is of the strict parent who gives a stinging slap to your hand whenever it inches closer to the scab. The other is of the lenient parent who lets you keep picking and peeling until the warm blood from the revived wound streams down your fingers. This childish situation seems somewhat similar to what we are put through in the pandemic.

The strict parent is the governments of countries like China, putting an iron grip on everyone, “slapping” in the form of firm curfews, sudden lockdowns, and stringent rules. However, these restrictions severely damage the economy, create paranoia, and separate people. The lenient parent is like the Canadian government, keeping a loose watch over travellers and implementing restrictions far too late. But the wound of the pandemic bleeds as its growing scab is repeatedly torn off by loose restrictions that continue to allow travel and gatherings, which spread the virus. Both choices hurt, and neither is ideal, but it is an undeniable truth that the government needs to become more strict and timely towards limiting the spread of the pandemic.

The numbers have hardened us. The media blares large numbers at us and people with lives and legacies, happy families and cherished memories just turn into digits on a webpage. Rarely do we think about the suffering of those 30 000 people who died in Canada during this pandemic. These people don’t just fade away into nothing. COVID-19 causes inflammation and the release of mucus in the lungs, which makes it harder and harder to breathe. Even as the condition of the patient deteriorates, visits can only be brief, and when it is hopeless, some families give consent to turn off the machines, which are the only things keeping the patient alive. The agony has been described as anything from the sensation of thousands of bees stinging inside the chest to being smothered [1]. Many suffocate.

Along with patients, front-line workers have been suffering from this pandemic. Many of them live isolated, fearing that they will contract COVID-19 and pass it on to their families. They hear the stories of people like Bob Waldron, a personal support worker in Montreal who suffered from PTSD after losing his father to the virus he passed on to his whole family [2]. A Statistics Canada survey found that 7 in 10 health care workers felt their mental health was worsening over the duration of the pandemic [3].

As more and more cases emerge like bubbles in a Coke, it is clear that the government needs to take more actions to limit the spread of COVID-19. The pandemic won’t just stop if we put restrictions in place, but doing nothing means more people die from COVID-19 and more unbearable days for front-line workers to endure. Ontario needs more restrictions invoked in a more timely manner. We are always a few steps behind. The government of Ontario lifted restrictions in October, only to then be clobbered by the Omicron variant. Understaffed, underequipped hospitals are now overwhelmed by another variant that we had plenty of time to prepare for.

The periodic peaks and upward trend of COVID-19 cases are obvious and simple. The first wave of the pandemic in Ontario saw a peak of 40 cases in one day province-wide. This was outrageous at the time. The second wave, which countless predictions had warned would be worse than the first, and which Canada had more than enough time to prepare for, saw a massive reopening. Instead of even an attempt to lock down, we were caught completely off guard. The surge in cases skyrocketed to nearly 2 500 in one day. Another reopening later, the third wave set a new record: over 4 800 cases in one day [4]. Wave after wave, we were unprepared. And now, despite innumerable warnings of the Omicron variant being by far the most formidable variant we will have faced, it has caught us, once again, off guard. The Omicron variant is catapulting cases to more than 18 000 in a single day (which is likely an underestimate), and experts are once again telling us that the frantically instated restrictions are “too late” as hospitals are overflowing and ambulances are frequently unavailable during life-threatening emergencies [5][6][7]. 

Right when the scab is almost done its job, we peel it away, and the wound is revived.

And it gets exceedingly worse every time. This repeated cycle of loosening restrictions and unpreparedness provokes a genuine question: Is Ontario’s government collectively any smarter than a 5 year old who can’t resist the urge to pick at a scab?

The government can’t continue putting in place restrictions only after the situation evolves out of control, or we will always be too late. It ignored the warnings before the second wave, the third wave, and now the fourth wave. What resulted was the overflowing of hospitals, countless preventable deaths, and a grimly embarrassing display of our government’s inability to learn from past mistakes. The government needs to listen to predictions and take action before the situation becomes dire. Restrictions must tighten, and they must tighten earlier, in order to prevent the damage that could be caused.

As more variants emerge, restrictions on the movement and gathering of people are becoming the best option. Protection from vaccines is dropping. The most widely administered Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine used to have an 80% chance of avoiding infection. With Omicron, that figure has dropped to 33% [8]. Cloth masks can barely block the new variant, which is 4-8 times more infectious than the previous record-holder [9]. As more, even stronger variants emerge, the most effective strategy will be restrictions on travel and gatherings. Restrictions damage the economy, and separate people in a time when they need the most support, but in such a pandemic there is no way to salvage everything. Sacrifices must be made. If restrictions can spare healthcare workers from one more day of trauma and reunite one more parent and child, then the sacrifice of another lockdown is worth it. Economies can heal, and separated people can heal. However, trauma lingers, and death is permanent.

We are already seeing our losses mount from the Omicron variant. Experts have already told us that restrictions are too late, once again. It’s time our government learns from its countless mistakes, the thousands of preventable deaths it has caused. When the next wave inevitably heads our way, we must have stricter restrictions, and they need to be in place before the situation worsens. It’s time we leave the scab on. We’ve peeled and bled and peeled and bled, and now we’re bleeding again. We need to make a commitment to not pick at it again. It does itch painfully, but we will realise that picking at it will make us bleed even more painfully. So let’s endure that persistent itch, so that we will leave fewer scars.