From desperate calls to follow government guidelines to the apparent disregard of the dangers posed by the virus by some “covidiots”—as some people call them, to a proposal to create some sort of ghetto for the elderly. These seem to be the prospects our province, and particularly Montreal, face with the arrival of the second wave of the pandemic.
As our province was approaching the 90,000 cases at the beginning of this week, it continues topping the contagion ranking in the country. The Montreal region, together with the provincial capital and some other cities are now all in Level 4 or Maximum Alert.
Besides the threat that this second wave represents for the population, Montreal has to face another big menace: the severe blow to its economy and to many of its most typical activities. Many people are worried about what the city will look like in the post-pandemic period. And the picture doesn’t look very bright. On the plus side, this Tuesday the city announced that it would receive an injection of funds of up to 263 million from the province. Which will be used to help businesses, especially in the downtown area, the homeless, some infrastructure projects, and balance the budget.
However, the needs may still be much greater. On top of that, on the vaccine front, the news is not comforting. This week Janssen, the pharmaceutical division of Johnson & Johnson, announced that it has paused the development of its vaccine. An illness contracted by one of the volunteers who took it was the reason. A similar situation was experienced by British AstraZeneca a few weeks ago. Certainly, a disquieting occurrence that casts doubts regarding the time when a vaccine may be ready. Perhaps it will take more time than what optimistic calculations were anticipating.
On the other hand, the Russians are moving into the mass production stage of their Sputnik 5 vaccine, and the Chinese seem to be the most advanced in the development of their own. However, given the state of relations between Canada and China after that untimely arrest of a Huawei executive on Trump’s orders, we probably won’t be high on the list of countries to benefit from any Chinese vaccine. Relations with the Russians, are distorted by distrust, and probably we won’t get any help there either. What about Canada’s efforts to develop its own vaccine? For some dubious reason, it seems that the federal government prefer to buy from foreign multinationals instead of helping fund the national projects already underway.
The second wave of COVID-19 is not only hitting our province and city hard: it is also revealing a poor state of preparedness on the part of the Quebec government. Premier François Legault and Dr. Horacio Arruda issue what sometimes sound as desperate calls to help in controlling the spread of the disease—to no avail. Young people, in particular, are not moved by those calls. Those who openly disregard the warnings have even challenged the authorities demonstrating against the measures aiming at controlling the contagion.
The discredited “herd immunity”—recently denounced by the head of the WHO—makes regular reappearances, always under the pretext of reactivating the economy. To what extent this claim may go? On October 1, a Janusz Kaczorowski, after a few platitudes about “protecting the most vulnerable” wrote in the opinion section of The Gazette: “We need to make sure, as a society, that our elderly, both institutionalized and those living in the community, receive the financial, social and psychological support they need to physically isolate in the most comfortable and humane way possible.” Then, he went on: “This might include providing free or subsidized temporary housing for those for whom physical isolation is not possible at their current place of residence; offering free, safe and reliable assistance with shopping, meal preparation and/or delivery…” This simply looks like a proposal for placing the elderly in a ghetto. Mr. Kaczorowski bluntly states the purpose of such move: “If such measures were to be implemented, the vast majority of us would be able to resume near-normal lives, keeping the economy going and everyone safe.” I would call this proposal a kind of “sanitary fascism.”
The prospects seem gloomy: Montreal, the city of the joie de vivre, suddenly losing its festivals, bars and restaurants are closed, movie theatres risk bankruptcy, and our vibrant downtown may become a thing of the past—instead, a kind of ghost town may emerge along Ste. Catherine.
Still, the agents of gloom and disaster, the ones who want to isolate the old, so they can go on making money and having parties, should not prevail. Some real humanism is needed more than ever.