COVID backlash brews in Canada, sending global warning

People gather in the streets during a protest by truckers and supporters against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination mandates, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, February 5. — REUTERS/CARLOS OSORIO

CANADIANS did as they were told during the pandemic. They lined up to get vaccinated until the country had one of the best vaccination rates in the developed world; they endured some of the longest shutdowns in North America; and they have complied with a wide range of curfews and quarantines.

But even in a society known for its civility and deference to authority, many are reaching their limits.

Pent-up frustration and rage erupted in the nation’s capital downtown, with hundreds of truckers and other protesters occupying the streets of Ottawa for nearly a week to oppose vaccination mandates. Protests spread across Canada this weekend and threaten to spread to the United States with protesters planning a convoy to Washington, D.C.

The group in Canada has been championed on Fox News and by podcaster Joe Rogan, Tesla billionaire Elon Musk and former President Donald Trump. Protesters began building makeshift shelters and collecting propane tanks, vowing to stay until vaccination mandates were lifted.

The populace may disapprove of their un-Canadian antics, but there is a growing sense of support for a message they are sending – that strict COVID restrictions no longer make sense. The protests have been the talk of the nation, around dinner tables, on talk shows and on social media. And they serve as a wake-up call not only to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but to world leaders: if even Canada begins to resist pandemic measures, what does that mean for the rest of the world?

“People are starting to ask what is the point or how effective are these restrictions?” said Shachi Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute, a research firm in Vancouver.

A poll in late January by the institute found that 54% of Canadians want to end restrictions and let people self-isolate if they are at risk. That was up 14 percentage points from a few weeks earlier. Omicron, a variant that is highly contagious but appears less likely to cause serious illness, has changed the perception of risk, Ms Kurl said.

The reaction is “not instinctive. It’s just under construction,” she said.

As COVID fatigue turns to angst, weary government leaders must decide if it’s time to start treating the virus as an endemic disease, like seasonal flu. Experts have warned that this could be premature. But if Canada is any guide, there will likely be growing public pressure to remove restrictions, whether the science backs it up or not.

Inside the capital, it is the continuous presence of hundreds of platforms that makes it a unique event. Although there was almost no violence or property damage, the crowds of trucks give the protests a menacing air, with the implicit threat of heavy machinery on the streets. The city center is almost completely blocked, with trucks pouring into residential areas. Drivers blast deafening horns all day and, in some cases, late into the night.

The protests began in response to Canadian and US laws that came into effect in January requiring truckers crossing the border to be fully vaccinated. They’ve turned into a fury over COVID restrictions more broadly. Measures to control Omicron hit the economy hard in January, leading to the loss of 200,100 jobs across the country during the month, Statistics Canada said Friday.

“I’m here because I’ve been separated from my family,” Cody Ward, a 30-year-old father of three, said as he hung around in the four-door sedan he drove from New York. Scotland. Parked less than a mile from the House of Commons, near an intersection with apartment buildings and a Catholic church, Mr Ward was surrounded by dozens of trucks, lined up in three lanes.

Mr Ward said some extended family members would not let him into their homes because he was not vaccinated and he blamed Canadian politicians for creating a divisive environment. He said he arrived in Ottawa on Tuesday and was prepared to protest for weeks, if not months.

He’s not a trucker, but he’s been cared for by an Adopt-a-Trucker program set up by protest organizers, and a local couple provides him with food and shelter. About a third of Canadians support the protest, while 36% believe Trudeau should drop the vaccination mandate for truckers, according to a new poll from Innovative Research Group.

More than C$10 million ($7.8 million) was raised for protesters on a GoFundMe page, but the crowdfunding site shut it down on Friday, citing police reports of violence and violence. other illegal activities.

Mr Trudeau – who called the convoy of truckers a “marginal minority” – showed no signs of reversing his government’s vaccination mandates. He campaigned and won last year’s election on a promise to protect health care and impose new travel restrictions on unvaccinated people.

Yet the backlash is felt by political leaders. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, Mr Trudeau’s main rival in the 2021 election, was dumped by her caucus this week in a coup led by lawmakers who did not like the party’s shift to the centre. For some, his refusal to embrace the protesters’ cause was another sign of weakness. After dropping it in a vote on Wednesday, a few came out and posed for photos with the truckers.

The premier of Quebec has dropped the threat of imposing a special tax on unvaccinated residents. The government of Saskatchewan, in the heart of the country’s most conservative west, has said it will soon remove all restrictions, including proof of vaccination requirements for public places.

“Eradicating COVID is not realistic and COVID zero is not achievable,” Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said Thursday, imploring residents to lead normal lives. “Dine with your friends. Go to the cinema. Go to your children’s games, the most important. You should do all of these things without constantly evaluating whether each of your activities is absolutely necessary. — Bloomberg

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