BRAUN: Canadians look to a world without a pandemic

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The end is nigh.

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Well, maybe.

The end of the pandemic seems to be in sight — if you squint — and the gradual transition from pandemic to endemic has at least entered the conversation.

According to a dozen experts rounded up by Reuters , this should be the last lousy COVID winter.

The disease will begin to taper off through 2022, provided people don’t take their eyes off the ball.

But don’t open the champagne just yet.

“The end” applies to countries with high vaccination rates (like Canada) or some immunity protection from infection (such as the U.K. and the U.S.) or some combination of both, but COVID will still decimate unprotected populations and mutate as it goes, so vigilance is required. The World Health Organization (WHO) has set a goal of achieving a 70% global vaccination rate by Dec. 31, 2022.

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Maria Van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist leading the WHO COVID-19 response, told Reuters she worries about any country that lifts COVID public health precautions too soon.

The transition from pandemic to endemic is good, but COVID will still be a nasty bit of business, capable of killing many every winter for the next several years. COVID won’t go away, but it will change from an ongoing crisis to a mostly-manageable, mostly-seasonal issue.

Right now, case numbers are falling. Deaths are fewer. Borders are opening up.

For that, you can thank the millions of people in Canada who are vaccinated.

And while we feel better about the pandemic, other places in the world — Russia, Ukraine, Romania — struggle with many daily deaths. There’s also an alarming COVID surge in Germany at the moment, and still close to 1,000 deaths every day in the U.S.

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The pandemic is not over.

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Ontario’s daily case count rose to more than 600 on Sunday; as Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said days ago:  “It is still too soon to fully ease public health measures.”

About 20% of all COVID-19 cases in Canada are now among children under 12, making them the largest population group of new infections.

And winter is coming. So this is not the time to stop being vigilant — Premier Doug Ford’s thoughts on cancelling vaccine passports in January notwithstanding.

What marks the end of the pandemic phase?

Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the Washington Post: “It doesn’t end. We just stop caring. Or we care a lot less.

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“I think for most people, it just fades into the background of their lives.”

The “caring a lot less” has already begun at Ontario’s long-term care homes, in our lack of a vaccine mandate for health care workers, in the failure to cut class size in our schools.

And every time the populace drops its guard, the numbers start to soar again.

If you start to get antsy for the end of the pandemic, consider the COVID dumpster fire that is Saskatchewan — where the anti-mask, anti-vaxx folks got exactly what they’ve been demanding.

All COVID restrictions were dropped there in July. Within weeks, the death rate in Saskatchewan became highest in Canada.

In a conversation about COVID variants and the fact that the coronavirus continues to mutate, Johns Hopkins’ Dr. Stuart Ray, vice chair of medicine for data integrity and analytics, noted,
“The more people who are unvaccinated and infected, the more chances there are for mutations to occur.”

He emphasized public health measures — masking, distancing, proper ventilation — must be maintained along with vaccination.

“We need to continue all of our efforts to prevent viral transmission and to vaccinate as many people as possible, and as soon as we can.”

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