The Way We Were

Brazil is facing major issues with COVID-19, but it's hard to tell from an AP photo of a beach in Rio de Janeiro posted last week.  As with everywhere else, Brazilians are growing weary of the lockdowns, masks, gloomy news, and the inability to get out and diversify their lives a bit.Summer just started for Brazilians on December 21st, running right through to March 20th, and people are ready to get out.  But the context isn't good and they are playing with fire.  As of last week, Brazil had 7.1 million Coronavirus cases and 185,000 deaths.  The country of 212 million people (two-thirds of the United States) is on par with America for pandemic loss.  So, it's serious.  Brazil is awaiting shipment of a Pfizer vaccine to inoculate their population, but, like everywhere else, it is going to take some time.  Making it worse, the country's president has mocked the vaccine, claiming it will turn those who receive it into “crocodiles and bearded ladies.”What is happening in that South American nation is being replicated around the world.  When the pandemic first hit, Brazilians across the country applauded from their balconies and windows to honour healthcare workers, just as the rest of us did.  Two months later the protestors began to emerge and their numbers increased rapidly.  In Rio de Janeiro, anger grew as more and more people began demanding that businesses be allowed to open once again, regardless of the health risks.What matters here is how momentum is evolving.  The majority of the people of Brazil still support the lockdown and the rigor of social distancing rules.  But, as the months wear on, opposition is turning from just resisting safety standards to claiming conspiracies everywhere – especially within government circles.  This means that, while the majority of the population trusts their security to government policies, a growing number of citizens and organized groups are claiming that the government is actually conspiring against the liberties of citizens so as to hold on to power.  Those rebelling praise their president for belittling the virus while denouncing government health experts who are warning of the seriousness of the situation.This, of course, is now happening in every country.  The critical mass of populations remains fairly steadfast in support of health authorities, research, and government measures.  But there remain those defiant against any sign of social control.  These, however, are not the real problem.  The behaviour of the first group is.It was there at the beginning but drew little notice.  As the warmer weather approached in May and June, however, increasing numbers of people who feared the virus nevertheless began appearing on beaches and at social gathering spots.  News that vaccines were being tested seemed to release much of the pent-up energies isolation had caused.That summer season allowed COVID numbers to start spiking, as did other national holidays that followed, like Thanksgiving and Christmas.  In those nations repeating that model, numbers are now at their highest levels since the pandemic began.But still citizens who normally wear masks and show a modicum of support for social distancing guidelines continue to find ways to gather as families and friends despite all the spikes in cases.  For businesses the options are limited: if they close, they likely go under.  We understand that pressure.  But individual citizens running such risks when vaccines are perhaps around the corner is hard to understand.Speaking of vaccines, they hardly guarantee that this pandemic will end anytime soon.  This country's national health framework should make equitable distribution possible, yet an increasing number of citizens say they won't take the vaccine, with various justifications.  The fundamental problem remains that those still donning masks nevertheless increasingly gather in social circles, allowing Covid-19 to transmit to a greater segment of the population.  It's happening right now, as infection numbers rise significantly across the country, leaving hospitals with the troubling decision to turn away those with other legitimate ailments.This is just our reality.  Democracies increasingly look incapable of containing the spread – not because governments aren't trying, but because citizens themselves, confined for months, feel inclined to gather, despite the consequences.  Some experts are already claiming that another wave, fueled by a morphing virus, is about ready to break upon us.  As democracies succumb to the mounting caseloads, evidence is emerging that our citizenship ultimately lacks the collective and individual disciplines that guard our security.All of our wealth, health systems, social supports, political structures, and information technology appear unable to keep a portion of us from putting the rest at risk.  Though mostly unintentional, the need to be free is placing our collective freedom in jeopardy.  And regardless of one's opinion on this development – and there are many – the rise in cases and hospitalizations has now become a democratic and political problem.  2021 might well exacerbate those dimensions more than 2020 ever did.Glen Pearson was a career professional firefighter and is a former Member of Parliament from southwestern Ontario. He and his wife adopted three children from South Sudan and reside in London, Ontario. He has been the co-director of the London Food Bank for 32 years. He writes regularly for the London Free Press and also shares his views on a blog entitled “The Parallel Parliament“. Follow him on twitter @GlenPearson.