Allison Hanes: Laissez-faire fatalism seems to have infected Legault – Montreal Gazette

Posted: March 31, 2021 at 4:01 am

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As pandemic's third wave strikes, premier is disinclined to lock down population again as long as hospitalizations don't exceed capacity.

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Perhaps Premier Franois Legault has quietly added Ayn Rands libertarian novel Atlas Shrugged to the reading list he likes to share with Quebecers.

The book, published in 1957, depicts a dystopian United States in which private businesses suffer under increasingly burdensome laws and regulations. In it, Rand advocates reason, individualism and capitalism over government coercion.

Some of this laissez-faire fatalism seems to have suddenly infected Legault as Quebec confronts a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, we were fighting the good fight to hold it off. This week, Quebec is clearly in the throes of it. But a defeatist tone has crept into the discourse of the authorities mounting the battle.

Legault described the situation as worrying in five areas of Quebec where gyms, spas and restaurants reopened and high school students went back to class full time this month. Montreal, meanwhile where most restrictions have remained in place until this week and public health has mounted an aggressive response to new variants remains stable.

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But instead of reconsidering the wisdom of having eased measures in Quebec City or Gatineau, Legault shrugged.

Theres still room in the intensive care units, he reasoned. As long as hospitalizations dont exceed capacity, he is disinclined to come down hard on a population that is starting to ignore the rules anyhow.

So much for the year-long effort to save lives, spare the health system from collapse and ease the burden of doctors and nurses who have been working tirelessly. In the premiers eyes, a few more Quebecers in hospital seems inevitable, even if theyre younger patients who spend longer in the ICU and require more care.

Same story with concern about outbreaks in schools fuelled by more contagious and lethal variants.

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Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebecs national director of public health, admitted that the government fully expects the number of new cases to rise by sending high school students back to class full time after months of part-time remote learning.

We knew it was going to increase. Its as if its planned for, he said, while in the next breath warning: Just because youre young doesnt mean you wont end up in intensive care.

Its all well and good that the Quebec government says education and the mental well-being of kids are top priorities. But how are students, teachers and parents supposed to feel about the fact their safety could be collateral damage in this noble objective?

Arruda also put the onus on those who are afraid of seeing restrictions lifted, saying gyms and restaurants may be open, but people who are nervous dont have to go. Its an odd shift in tone from the guy in charge of protecting us from COVID-19.

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Quebec seems to be going from eradicating to managing the virus in the final sprint. All Quebecers who want to be vaccinated have been promised their first shot by June 24 and the province has hit its target of inoculating 1.3 million people days ahead of schedule.

Around the country and the world, leaders are starting to sound the alarm about the third wave hitting and possibly a fourth after that.

British Columbia this week instituted a three-week circuit-breaker lockdown. U.S. President Joe Biden urged Americans to hold down the fort on mask wearing and social distancing after Centre for Disease Control director Dr. Rochelle Walensky tearfully warned of impending doom. This is the chilling message in a country that is far more advanced in its vaccination campaign than Quebec.

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And yet Legault dismissed these more robust responses.

Our situation is different when you look at the number of cases and hospitalizations, he said. Our situation is better and our measures are tougher, including the curfew at 9:30 p.m.

But Legault seemingly admitted that relaxing the curfew from 8 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. a few weeks back gave people the wrong idea.

The fact that we loosened certain measures, its like we opened the door to people to loosen measures that we didnt loosen, he said.

So why doesnt Legault close it again rather than abdicating responsibility? Previously he had touted the curfew as the most effective weapon in Quebecs pandemic-fighting arsenal.

Now hes extremely worried about Quebecers gathering over the Easter weekend and lamented private gatherings have become a big source of contagion again, at least outside of Montreal. But instead of adjusting, Legault shrugged. Quebec will just beef up police surveillance instead.

Its a maddening conundrum. The Premier knows what the answer to the third wave is, but he cant be bothered to try to stop it.

ahanes@postmedia.com

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Allison Hanes: Laissez-faire fatalism seems to have infected Legault - Montreal Gazette

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