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Mandryk: Post-COVID-19 division may be pandemic's unhealthy outcome

Leader Post logo Leader Post 2021-05-11 Murray Mandryk
a group of people standing in front of a crowd: COVID-19 protesters like these anti-mask rally in Saskatoon last March shows how intransigent many of us have become. © Provided by Leader Post COVID-19 protesters like these anti-mask rally in Saskatoon last March shows how intransigent many of us have become.

We should all be cheering the recent good COVID-19 news, shouldn’t we?

The seven-day average of Saskatchewan new cases dipped Sunday to 213 cases or 17.4 cases per 100,000 people — not as good as it could be because of a Friday-Saturday uptick, but, nevertheless, the province’s lowest number in 40 days.

Sure, it’s still far too high, which was pretty much the story of the entire winter-spring of 2020-21 marked by this pandemic’s third wave.

But for those who have rightly fretted when Saskatchewan was recording the highest per-capita rates in the country, shouldn’t it be cause for celebration when the numbers are going down? And didn’t we see other numbers that were even better?

This weekend, we passed 500,000 vaccination doses in Saskatchewan. This is allowing Premier Scott Moe to meet the target for Step 1 of the re-reopen plan that will see a loosening of restrictions by month’s end because 70 per cent of the population 40 years and older have been vaccinated.

Yes, it’s an arbitrary goal some argue should have been higher. It’s also reasonable to suggest this cannot be the only gauge the Saskatchewan Party government uses for its reopening strategy.

But if we objectively look at other indicators, shouldn’t we be kicking up heels because worrisome hospitalizations are now at their lowest level since March? Unlike Alberta or Manitoba, our numbers are levelling off (although the virus travelling between provinces remains a big concern).

No Saskatchewan COVID-19 deaths were reported on the weekend. Fewer of us are getting sick. This is all good news.


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Yet it was news ignored by some in the “what-about” crowd — either out of habit or politics — that  now  seem incapable of acknowledging that the numbers are getting better. (The latest odd obsession seems to be “what about” Rasputin-like influence the Saskatchewan Party government’s business response team has over chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab and the entire Saskatchewan Health Authority.)

That said, those sincerely worried about spread of the novel coronavirus were not nearly as big a problem for Saskatchewan this weekend as those who, seemingly, couldn’t care less.

The problem isn’t just the anti-lockdown, anti-mask crowds spreading propaganda that serves no purpose other than slowing down reopening because many in this crowd are also anti-vaccination. The problem is the real and present danger of the spread of novel coronavirus at these events.

But they are also part of a much bigger, long-term problem — especially when far too many who should know better give this group credence because they happen to agree with bits of their rhetoric against lockdowns.

When — not if, but when — we emerge out of this pandemic, we may be more divided than we were going into it. This isn’t healthy for society and could produce a more lasting effect than COVID-19 itself.

Extreme viewpoints are overrunning more reasoned, rational ones and taking over the prized middle ground. That middle ground suddenly seems harder and harder to find — not because there’s any less of it, but because too many have staked too much of it as their territory for their own intransigent beliefs.

Admittedly, this can’t be solely blamed on the pandemic. This was happening before any of us had heard of COVID-19.

It was evident in the climate change debate when politicians found it politically profitable to cater to extreme views rather than acknowledge scientific realities or economic ones that suggest a move from well-paying fossil fuels jobs to clean energy could be done easily done.

Then along came COVID-19 …

This is not about legitimate critiquing of government or the right to free speech and to hold a dissenting view.

Really, it’s about our social-media age of self-obsession where it’s just easier to get lost in your petty views and ignore truths, facts and realities when they, inconveniently, don’t quite fit your own narrative.

Faced with a crisis of a lifetime, we could have come together in common cause. Instead, we’ve mostly found excuses to become further divided.

Mandryk is the political columnist for the Regina Leader-Post and Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

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