It can seem impolite if not downright offensive to discuss ending the lockdowns and allowing people the “privilege” of going out to eat, opening their “non-essential” business and working their “non-essential” jobs.
The discussion must be had at a nuanced level that appropriately recognizes preventative measures already in place including those designed to protect the most vulnerable along with hospital capacity, the impacts of lockdowns on mental health, childhood development and the lives, employment and livelihoods of all those affected by a lockdown.
Consider the very young who will have extremely limited socialization and exposure to outside activities during this important developmental stage. When infants should be exposed to new environments and people, they instead have been at home. The true impact of this won’t be known for years until they mature but experts say that infant socialization is the foundation for communication and socialization.
No doubt the impact on school-aged kids will vary. Some will excel academically in an at-home environment others with different learning styles or less-than-ideal home situations and unable to access the supports available at school will fall behind. All have missed on the non-measurable, but equally important friendships, social interactions, and physical activities that are all part of being in-school.
Our economy was not strong going into COVID, but consider for a moment that there are 22,400 fewer people working in Red Deer compared to just two years ago.
Some might have been okay for a while for those with savings and access to Canadian Recovery Benefit, but with a mortgage, vehicle payments and groceries, it’s just not enough to outlast the virus and lockdowns. The stress of dealing with bills without an income is immense and can lead to marital breakdown and mental health issues.
In a survey conducted in the spring of 2020, 52 per cent reported their mental health was either “somewhat worse” or “much worse.” Likely these numbers have increased through this lockdown as many were forced to celebrate the holidays without their loved ones.
Most small business owners don’t have massive pensions or retirement saving plans. They have assets tied up in their business where they’ve invested their blood, sweat and tears. Those assets are depreciating and potentially going negative everyday the business isn’t allowed to operate.
In mid-December it was estimated that 10,000 restaurants across Canada are closed for-good as a result of COVID. Undoubtedly that number will continue to increase the longer this continues.
Clearly the purpose of the lockdown is to ensure adequate room in our hospitals by reducing the spread of the virus. At this point we have had the virus in our lives for a year. Vaccines are currently being administered to front-line staff and seniors, yet we hear reports of new strains and extreme new lockdown measures, creating concerns this could go on indefinitely.
As of writing this we are in the fourth week of the new stronger, mandatory restrictions affecting all indoor and outdoor gatherings.
It’s estimated that Canada won’t have enough vaccinations until the fall of 2021. Until then, we don’t know how many will get the virus and how many will require hospitalization. We don’t know how many more businesses will go bankrupt and how many families will struggle with the impacts of unemployment via their marriages and mental health. How long will people be laid off and reliant on social assistance? How many will suffer from the mental health strain, potentially even with their lives?
This is something of incredible importance we need to have an honest conversation about. It needs to include our medical professionals, our statisticians, and all of us who are faced with the impacts of this virus and the measures designed to contain it. Clearly public health must be the highest priority, but measures taken must be founded in science, be reasonable, and considerate of their long-term implications to our society.
Reg Warkentin is policy and government affairs manager with the Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce.