Do you believe it’s already the last week of January? This year seems to be moving fast so far and it hasn’t been that great. As was pointed out to me this morning in a radio appearance I made, this is the one-year anniversary of the first COVID-19 case in Canada. I have to admit hearing it put as an “anniversary” put me off at first, mostly because it’s not a good milestone to be remembering. Yes, it’s important but when I hear the word “anniversary”, I usually think of good things like weddings. The arrival of COVID-19 in Canada surely isn’t a good thing.

Of course, the use of the word is grammatically correct, and it doesn’t do any good to dwell on linguistic things like that, but that brief thought was a bit of a respite from all of the very hard things that have been on the mind. Taking a few moments to think about the use of that word was a few moments I didn’t have to think about everything that we are facing, and will be continuing to face. Those are the things that our political leaders in Ottawa will be returning to today. Here is just a small taste of it:

Folks, that is a full plate of hellacious things to worry about. We’re not receiving any of the Pfizer vaccines this week (which is true for other nations as well & is not the fault of the Canadian government), we’re seeing millions of tests sitting unused and undistributed in Ontario, we’re finding out more about the newest variant of COVID-19 coming from the UK and now there is talk of invoking the Emergencies Act to limit travel to limit the spread. It’s a lot to take on and there aren’t any easy answers to the situation. That’s not even thinking about the continued economic impact of this pandemic, which continues to get worse for so many out there.

Those are all good reasons to not have an election in the Spring, and those are just the ones that are on the table right now. We can assume that things won’t get worse, but that would be a naïve and foolish thing to do, despite the fact that those who deny there even is a problem do that on a daily basis. The data keeps showing us just how bad this could still get, like that new data from the UK about their new COVID variant, which has been found here in Canada. This morning another piece of data came out from Simon Fraser University’s Magpie (Mathematic, Genomics AND Prediction in Infection and Evolution) Group that crossed my social media, and its data that everyone should see:

This group put together new modelling on where COVID made go, asking this question: What happens if a high-transmission variant becomes established, and is transmitted in the general community in Canada? This seems to be a fair question to ask, given that we’ve found more and more cases of the B.1.1.7 variant (the UK variant) across Canada. As the Globe and Mail article from this morning above noted, that variant is up to 70% more contagious and that new study out today from the UK shows that it’s up to 30% more deadly than the original variant. It seems timely then that this new modelling came out, that was built on the following question: What would it look like if a variant with a 40% higher transmission rate got established here, under the current COVID-19 controls? What exactly would that look like? Well here are the graphs from their release that shows their results:

Source: Simon Fraser Univerity MAGPIE Group
Source: Simon Fraser University MAGPIE Group

The upshot of the modelling is starkly clear: failure to prevent or contain this now spells disaster in March. We’re already seeing shortages of ICU beds in Ontario, with patients being shipped across the province to find empty bed space and some field hospitals being set up. We’re already seeing the stresses on our healthcare system and health care workers, who have been in this fight constantly now for over 10 months. It’s already beyond bad today. Yet imagine for a moment how much worse that will look when cases COVID doubling every 1-2 weeks, compared to doubling times of 30-40 days we’ve recently in Ontario. Imagine the Hell that would bring.

If you thought that things were bad already, just imagine how much worse things could get if that modelling turns out to pass. I shudder to think about what that would mean for us, but as things have been for so long, these are things that are within our hands to do something about. The report lays out some suggestions for governments to take right away: tighten rules on travel, define essential travel and stop non-essential travel, should step up quarantine and isolation of travelers and improve detection and testing. You could add to that continuing to keep up with COVID measures were are doing at home: masking, staying at home, social distancing whenever you can’t and government doing what it can within its budgets and powers to help Canadians do all of those things.

Will doing those things guarantee that we won’t face the worst in March? No, but that’s what will give us the best chances. We’ve seen in the past year that when Canadians stick to our public health measures, we keep COVID more under control and get those numbers lower. When we think about each other and not act selfishly, as some COVID-deniers and anti-maskers have constantly done, we stand a much better chance. In order for that to happen, we need clarity from our governments and true leadership through example, not more of this “do as I say, not as I do” stuff that’s marred things for the past month. As the House returns today, can our political leaders rise to that challenge and the moment, when we need them to the most? We’ll find out soon enough but if more election talk dominates the discussion rather than focusing on this life-or-death issue, then it will be a very bad sign. I’m hoping for the best but given how 2021 is going so far, that hope might not be the best placed. I really hope that our political leaders prove me wrong.