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OPINION: COVID-19 is not going away any time soon

"Brace yourself for the coming peaks and valleys of COVID-19."
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Canada's Dr. Theresa Tam and other prominent health officials are urging people to take the long view when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: People wearing face masks / Getty Images

The financial penalties for undue “partying” recently announced by Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth are getting a world of attention right now, but it was another recent pronouncement that should give everyone pause for thought.

That would be the almost grim pronouncement earlier this month by Dr. Theresa Tam, the country’s Chief Public Health Officer, that we will likely be in this pandemic until at least January 2022 and perhaps even longer.

It came with the latest “modelling” from her office, which suggests we will see “peaks and valleys” of COVID-19 cases for at least the next 17 months or so. A big challenge in trying to predict precisely what is going to happen with the virus is that we are still learning about it, and so Tam is leaning towards the “worst case” kind of scenario.

“We don’t know the seasonality of this virus,” Tam told reporters at her briefing. “It’s continued through the summer, that’s for sure, but what if it demonstrates a certain type of acceleration under certain conditions?”

To that end, her model anticipates a huge upward spike of positives throughout the fall, and then smaller spikes and dips over the next year or so.

Tam is not the only prominent health official who is urging people to take the long view when it comes to the pandemic.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix echoed Tam’s view just a few days later. “This pandemic that we are all tired of, so very tired of, will be going on now, we would expect, through 2021 into 2022,” he told reporters. “This new normal is going to be in place for a long time.”

Moreover, the prominent Canadian Medical Association Journal just published an editorial that warned of potential “pandemic fatigue” setting in, leading to a reduced sense of urgency among people to do what it takes to contain the virus.

“In the absence of a vaccine or other therapeutic breakthrough a long road lies ahead,” the editorial stated.

The “pandemic fatigue” fear is intriguing. Certainly, even as COVID-19 cases spike upwards in B.C., some people continue to gather indoors in large groups. Will they continue to do so, even if faced with that $2,000 fine announced by Farnworth?

If our hospitalizations and deaths attributed to COVID-19 stay low (and let’s hope they do), I suspect many people will ignore the rules and clamour for a return to “normalcy.” However, we are not returning to “normal” life, as we knew it pre-pandemic, for a long, long time. And that could set the stage for a steady rise in tensions, pitting “infection fighters” versus “cynical spreaders” (terms coined by pollster Angus Reid).

Something tells me Farnworth, Dix and public health officials will inevitably have to get tougher with scofflaws and those who flout public health rules over the next year and a half. Bigger penalties for indoor parties and creative solutions like cutting off water and power to facilities used for these activities will likely be explored.

Tam’s dark warning cannot be ignored. We will need to, in her words, accept the “new reality of living with this virus.”

Brace yourself for the coming peaks and valleys of COVID-19.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC. Keith.Baldrey@globalnews.ca