Allison Hanes: As the holidays draw closer, a chilling sense of COVID déjà vu

Once again, we are weighing the risks for ourselves and our loved ones, as we face a choice between what is allowed and what is prudent.

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With less than 10 days until Christmas, the number of new COVID-19 cases in Quebec skyrocketed to a dizzying 2,386 on Wednesday.

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And with the alarming news came a series of conflicting advice from various levels of government on how we should proceed during what was supposed to be a holiday season.

Ottawa warned of the dangers of non-essential travel out of the country, although it did not tighten restrictions on flights or borders.

Prime Minister François Legault said he has not ruled out changing the rules that allow celebrations of up to 20 people from December 23, but made no move to lower the limits for private gatherings.

Dr. Mylène Drouin, Montreal’s director of public health, painted a sobering picture of the situation in the city and urged people to reduce their social contacts as much as possible, not just during the holidays, but from now on.

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Too much comfort and joy. With the countdown to Christmas, many of us are suddenly anxious to know if our plans are safe. Should we cancel long-awaited meetings with our loved ones? Should we give up travel to see family we haven’t visited in a long time? Should we put the kibosh on dinner with all the garnishes? If we don’t, is someone going to force us?

Almost two years after the pandemic, the answers are not as clear as they should be now. And the mixed messages from authorities reluctant to make unpopular decisions are certainly not helping.

Basically, the federal government is telling people, “Don’t go abroad, but we won’t stop you.” Meanwhile, testing for international passengers arriving in Canada is more of a threat than a certainty, and many airports, including Montreal, struggle to find space to set up inspection.

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The ” delays and inconveniences ”, Minister of Health, Jean-Yves Duclos He told travelers to expect that re-entry into the country sounds more of a deterrent than anything else. Additionally, anyone arriving from the United States is exempt, leaving a huge hole in our defenses against the pandemic.

Legault is reluctant to disappoint Quebecers by ripping the carpet out of his vacation plans after playing spoiler last year. He seems willing to do anything but log off, send office workers home to work, and promise to give every elementary school student a rapid diagnostic test kit. But where are the booster shots that could really help us weather the coming storm? Quebec has been lethargic and lagged behind.

Even 10 days ago, Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s national director of public health, seemed less confident in his own advice by allowing up to 20 fully vaccinated people to gather. It keeps saying that 20 is a maximum, not a recommendation. He said he has even cut back on his own family celebrations. But Quebecers are allowed to read between the lines, deciphering between what they should do and what they are allowed to do.

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Once again, Drouin has been left to be the voice of reason, the dispeller of illusions, the sniper. He said 95 cases of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 were detected in Montreal, prompting the closure of two schools, a community center and a gym. But he hopes to find many more in the coming days and weeks, with the contagion curve almost vertical.

Most alarmingly, more than 90 percent of Montréal’s who tested positive for the Omicron strain were fully vaccinated. In other words, it is infecting those who had every reason to believe they were protected.

How does that bit of information figure in our plans?

We can certainly find fault with the authorities for their confusing, inconsistent and contradictory communications. In fact, the message may be more confusing now than it was at the beginning of the pandemic. We have government officials and public health experts as much as ever to guide our individual actions, especially in times like these when it is difficult.

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But right now the political leaders are telling us what we want to hear.

The decision to cancel Christmas, for both governments and individuals, was perhaps easier last year when the danger was most obvious … when it seemed like we would only be sitting on a holiday … before rolling up our sleeves … when expectations of a return to normalcy had not been raised … when pandemic fatigue had not altered our tolerance for risk.

But here we are again: watching public health deteriorate day by day; weigh the risks to ourselves, our loved ones, and the healthcare system; facing a choice between what is permissible and what is prudent.

Instead of a merry Christmas, it’s déjà vu.

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