Kusi-Appiah: COVID19: Re-opening now is unwise

Andy Kusi-Appiah

by Prof. Kusi-Appiah, QE Scholar, 2019/2020

Introduction:

On February 8, 2020 the premier of Ontario announced that the province will conduct a partial lifting of the lockdown put in place some 60 days ago. The main reason he gave for this is that infections from COVID-19 have gone down drastically since the lockdown was announced some 60 days ago. I get it — staying home and having everything closed (lockdown) makes people really apprehensive about our ‘freedoms’, but what is ‘freedom’ when we still have a virus like corona mutating and killing us?

And why this knee jerk reaction every 60 days or so? As of Wednesday February 25, 2021, 14,470 residents of Ottawa had tested positive for COVID-19. Currently, there are over 446 known active cases and 13, 587 resolved cases, and Ottawa Public health officials have attributed 4337 deaths to COVID-19.  Furthermore, Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Vera Etches is backing up what some key expects are already suggesting, that is: “the city of Ottawa may have to move to red zone rules if the spread of COVID-19 does not slow.

To be sure, things are not okay because COVID-19, like the ordinary flu or SARS, is here with us, and it is here to stay. If you don’t believe me, just consider the fact that this virus is now mutating and causing more havoc than it did at the very beginning. And what is worse, the vaccine that was hurriedly designed has not been rolled out to the population. According to Ontario’s immunization task force, the province will start vaccinating adults over 80 years in the middle of March 2021, and people aged 60 to 64 years old could be vaccinated in July of 2021.

Our impatience is palpable:

Covid19 struck in the last month of 2019, and since then we humans have shown how impatient we are in dealing with the pandemic which was ‘manufactured’ by humans – yes, we brought this onto ourselves through our neoliberal outlook on life which simply dictates that we can deal with nature anyhow we want and damn the consequences so long as we are making the mighty dollar. Scholars like Laurie Garrett and Vandana Siva (and all those wonderful scientists) have been warning us about the risk of invading the habitats of natural pathogens in their natural habitats, and how this can create imbalance in the system which may come back to haunt us.

One would think that such intelligence will be taken into account when we are looking at how we humans deal with the environment, but alas, we are tone deaf and our ‘tunnel vision’ way of looking at life has brought us here. But instead of slowing down for the virus to ‘disappear’, what do we see? Every 60 days we open up again for the virus to cause havoc.

As you all know, we humans are now in the epoch of the “Anthropocene”, a term coined by Crutzen and Stoermer (2000) to refer to the epoch of human influence on the surface of the Earth. It is much more than the threat of global environmental change. Human impacts on the environment runs deeper than just our use of fossil fuels. According to Lewis and Maskin (2018):

“The Anthropocene is a turning point in the history of humanity, the history of life, and the history of the Earth itself. It is a new chapter in the chronicle of life and a new chapter of the human story.” (Lewis and Maskin, 2018).

As Naomi Klein (2010) puts it: “this changes everything, forever….” And indeed it has! Our patterns of energy use and the scale of our social organization have altered human societies and our environmental impacts on the Earth system (Crutzen and Stoermer, 2000). Humans have invaded the habitats of other species, including disease causing pathogens. Humans are seeing more diseases than ever before because of our own activities. What is needed now more than ever is for us humans to press the reset button and regroup.

Reality check:

COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon, and in the spirit of what journalist George Manbiot has been saying all along, we need to re-imagine how we ‘confront’ this pathogen. As George Manbiot puts it, and I agree wholeheartedly: “Repeated lockdowns are a symptom of policy failure.” According to Manbiot, in order to deal with such policy failures, we need to avoid such knee jerk reactions and focus on professional testing, tracing, isolation, and ‘universal mask wearing wherever transmission is likely’ (Manbiot, 2021).
We can no longer go back to pre-2019 when there was no corona virus; the virus is here to stay and we need to have long term plan (s) in place to deal with this pandemic and only governments can do this effectively.

Andy Kusi-Appiah is an adjunct professor at Carleton University. His interests are on the impact of social and environmental changes on the health and well-being of vulnerable groups (e.g., 2nd generation Canadians of African descent).

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