PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY SARA SHEIKH / SPUTNIK PHOTOGRAPHY
On Jan. 3, the provincial government of Ontario announced the province would be implementing stronger COVID restrictions as of Jan. 5.
Restrictions include reduced indoor and outdoor gathering numbers, a halt to indoor dining in restaurants, online schooling for elementary and secondary schools until Jan. 17. and more.
Wilfrid Laurier University has already announced and implemented classes which are online until Jan. 31. as a result of rising case numbers.
These restrictions come as a result of the quick spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, which has led to record high case numbers worldwide. A week after Laurier had announced online learning, coronavirus cases had reached 6.51 million cases within the week of Dec. 22- 28.
“I believe that the province of Ontario needs to do whatever is necessary to make sure that if you get significantly sick from Omicron, regardless of your vaccination status, that there is a healthcare system there for you,” said Will Bouma, MPP of Brantford-Brant.
The hope is that by implementing further restrictions, the spread of the Omicron variant will be slowed enough to prevent the healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed.
Although early research has indicated that the Omicron variant may be less deadly, it also appears to be much more transmissible. This means that even though less individuals who contract the Omicron variant will need hospitalization compared to other variants, the sheer amount of people who contract the virus may cancel out this factor.
Seeing as previous provincial COVID-19 restrictions have not completely stopped the spread of the virus and seemingly slowed it down until another wave hit, there has been backlash to the new restrictions.
“The government is choosing to keep the healthcare system functioning and I think that’s definitely an important objective, but they’re also creating other problems when they do that,” said Dr. Ketan Shankardass, an associate professor in the department of health sciences at Laurier’s Waterloo campus.
Heavy restrictions have impacted Ontario citizen’s mental health, physical health and finances. Statistics Canada has found that 21 per cent of youth aged 18 and older have experienced the greatest decline in mental health since the start of the pandemic.
Shankardass feels that the public has acted as an advocate for themselves during the pandemic in response to the changing of restrictions.
“There are things that the government could do to address the public’s concerns even if they are to act to protect the healthcare system,” said Shankardass.
Shankardass offers the solution of protections for workers and aid to businesses to help the public deal with the financial costs of the pandemic.
“If it turns into another long spell of online learning for students and closures of businesses, then I would really start to seriously question whether the government was making the right choice,” said Shankardass.
The hope is that by Jan. 17, elementary and secondary schools can reopen and restrictions can loosen again; however, this depends on the capacity of the healthcare system and the resources available to help healthcare workers treat those suffering from COVID-19 and other reasons for routine hospital visits.
Laurier aims for classes to return in person on February 1.
“I think we’re seeing a big spike right now,” said Bouma, “I don’t think that spike has peaked yet based on how quickly the numbers are going up, but hopefully that spike will go away as quickly so that if we have to announce restrictions that they will be for a very short time.”
Bouma also believes that Ontario may not be able to afford another lockdown, as the resulting increase in drug abuse, worsened mental health, and financial burden is not to be ignored. By the province addressing some of these concerns, the people of Ontario might be better prepared for the tightening of restrictions and the possibility of a future lockdown.
While stopping the spread of the Omicron variant may not be possible, slowing it would allow the healthcare system and its workers to be better prepared to deal with the resulting patients.
Although young, healthy individuals are less likely to be severely impacted by contracting COVID-19, “the healthcare system in a student’s community is also relying on those students to help prevent transmission in general,” said Shankardass.
By reducing exposure, students can help prevent those who may be more vulnerable from contracting the virus and needing hospitalization.
Proper mask use, vaccinations with booster shots and social distancing are also effective in slowing the spread of the Omicron variant.
“I’d like to remind everyone to be kind to each other…” said Bouma.