Western News – “Because of COVID”: Western experts weigh up two years of pandemic – 71Bait

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic.

The rapid spread of a novel coronavirus and “alarming inaction” by governments were a cause for grave concern, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the time.

“We cannot say this loud enough or clearly enough or often enough: all countries can still change the course of this pandemic.

“When countries identify, test, treat, isolate, track and mobilize their populations in response, those with a handful of cases can prevent those cases from becoming clusters and those clusters from community transmission,” he said at the time.

And that’s how the phrase “because of the pandemic” entered our collective lexicon.

The global number on that day: 18,000 confirmed cases and 4,291 deaths.

WHO’s latest figures to date: 450 million confirmed cases and, another sad milestone this week, more than six million deaths.

Two long years have passed.


Last summer we reached out to some of the best western researchers in the fields of viruses, health, medicine, ethics, education, justice and technology for a digital storytelling pack that explores some of the challenges and opportunities of the pandemic.

Western film news recently invited these researchers to look back and forward and answer these two questions:

Kate Choi, Demographer and Director of the Center for Research on Social Inequality

Professor Kate Choi

The most important lesson we learned during the pandemic is that our health and well-being as a society depend largely on the health and well-being of those most vulnerable. This was most evident in problems related to vaccine distribution. Inequalities in access to vaccines led to the emergence of variants and prolonged this pandemic.

In the new normalrequires our ability to be successful, to gather more data, conduct sound scientific analysis, and enact evidence-based policies that can address the symptoms and causes of social problems.

Our ability to thrive in the new normal requires the development of sustainable and equitable policies that offer tailored solutions for those with different sets of resources and different needs, and a move away from one-size-fits-all policy solutions.

MaxwellSmithBioethicist and Co-Director of Western’s Laboratory for Health Ethics, Law and Policy (HELP).

Professor Maxwell Smith

Professor Maxwell Smith

An unexpected lesson for me is that some aspects of pandemic preparedness may be less valuable than I previously thought. For the past 10-15 years I have been involved in research that has engaged the Canadian public on pandemic-related issues, including the ethics of using quarantine and isolation measures, the equitable allocation of scarce resources such as vaccines and ventilators, and vaccination regulations.

A common refrain has been that it is better to think these issues through and involve the public and policymakers up front during the ‘preparation’ phase, as opportunities to do so will be limited in the midst of an acute crisis. However, when confronted with these problems during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was little desire to learn from and learn lessons from this important preparatory work. Now that a wider public was becoming aware of the issues and had not contributed to the research or deliberations undertaken during the preparatory phase, we had no choice but to revisit these issues, research and engagements. I am no longer convinced that this type of preparatory work will necessarily help us to avoid it anyway in the acute phase of fighting the pandemic.

New normal: We have seen a very public reckoning on governments’ use of measures to protect and promote the health of the public. Powers and responsibilities once taken for granted or totally unknown to much of the public have now become very clear and have been subjected to public scrutiny that has at times been tenuous. Consequently, I fear that part of a “new normal” could be increased opposition to policies that have long been designed to keep people safe and healthy, including vaccination requirements in schools, fluoridation in city drinking water, and measures to improve air quality. Our new normal may mean undoing decades of achievements in keeping people safe and healthy.

Adrian Owen, Neuroscientist and Professor at Western’s Brain & Mind Institute

Professor Adrian Owen

Professor Adrian Owen

Lesson learned: Never assume you’ve reached the top of the mountain until you’re at the bottom on the other side. When we started our COVID study [of ‘brain fog’ following COVID infection] As early as summer 2020, there were eight million cases of COVID-19 worldwide. We made an effort to get the study up and running in case we “missed our window.” To date there have been 446 million cases worldwide and the pandemic is still going strong in most countries. I’m glad we started then because we learned so much, but if we had known then what we know now, we would have set about making the study very different.

lesson to learn: Based on what we have learned and how things are shaping up as we enter year three of this pandemic, I think we have yet to learn that for many, even when it is, it will not be over. Many people face ongoing challenges to their physical, cognitive, and mental health after recovering from COVID-19 infection, and we don’t yet know if these will resolve over time, if they could permanently impact people’s health or whether they might even do so could lead to further complications down the line. Even if we assume that these long-term consequences only affect a tiny minority of those infected, they could still add up to hundreds of thousands of people who may not be able to return to work or go about their normal activities of daily living, with potentially massive societal and economic consequences Follow.

Nadine Waten, Canada Research Chair in Mobilizing Knowledge on Gender-Based Violence

Nadine Waten

Professor Nadine Wathen

Unfortunately we have learned that the injustices and structural and systemic violence in our society run so deep that they have shaped every aspect of our response and non-response to the pandemic. We saw race, linked to poverty and poor working and living conditions, as the main reason for deaths from COVID-19 – you are much more likely to die from COVID-19 in Canada if you are non-white and live on a low income. We have seen deaths from toxic street drug overdoses soar, homelessness soared and violence against women and children reached what the UN Director-General called “horrific” proportions. This January, 20 women and girls were killed in Canada, most by a male family member.

And now that damage is spilling out as we see entire professions, often heavily gendered, such as teachers and nurses, being crushed under the weight of both bad policies (e.g. paying nurses as demand for overtime increases; and working while sick, because there is no or very limited paid sick leave) and increased child and elder care as both the education and long-term care systems have failed in their care responsibilities.

take that away is that things won’t get much better until we take a good look at the way we’ve organized society and decide on more just and less harmful ways of providing support to everyone, especially those we care about have pushed the edge. This pandemic has given us the data and the stories to see very clearly where the problems are – the question is whether we have the courage to do something about it.

Anwar Haque, Computer science professor and telecommunications expert

Professor Anwar Haque

Professor Anwar Haque

lesson learned: During the pandemic, we’ve been able to largely mitigate the economic impact by continuing to work remotely and stay connected to the world. Also, almost all businesses have been able to offer their services online during one of the most difficult times humankind has ever known – thanks to advanced information and communication technologies, infrastructure and computer tools that made this possible. However, we also learned about the technical limitations of these technologies and tools.

lesson to learn: It’s time to invest in research to make these great technologies even better and more effective, and to develop new tools to be better prepared and armed for the next unprecedented event.

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