‘Opening the economy’ means sacrificing our neighbours

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Eight weeks.  That’s how long it took us to go from “we’re all in this together” to “well, back to work folks.”

Unable to accept a different sort of society that doesn’t involve the service economy chugging along, the move to get the country back to work has moved from trial balloon to reality.

Here in Quebec, we’ve decided to open up schools and business outside of Montreal.  While the virus is contained neither inside long-term care homes, or in the wider population, particularly here on the island.

Did I mention the part where Quebec has been the hardest hit province, where its biggest city has yet to get a grip on the virus?

To make this premature restart happen, the province’s schools are being turned into babysitting institutions with structure that includes everything but the striped prison uniforms, all in the name of the social health of the province’s kids.

When, really, what it’s about is freeing parents who can’t work at home to go back to work.

By Monday next week retail stores across Ontario will be open for curb-side pickup.  What this means is a bunch of retail workers will be mingling around shuttling back and forth between stores and cars handing off goods.  Will they have adequate protection?  Unlikely.

In Ontario, the premier talks about opening up cottage country for the Victoria Day weekend, where a mass migration from the city to the woods will surely have no negative impact on the shoestring health systems in lake country.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer talks about making the CERB more flexible to let people pick up shifts here and there to get back in the world and back to work.

The implication in all of this is that the people that need to get to work, the people’s whose jobs do not involve videoconferencing and cloud services, but face-to-face interaction need to get back in the world.

They say people should get back to work in “safe” conditions.  But what exactly is safe right now?  There’s so much about COVID-19 we don’t understand, “safe” is a relative term.  But the things we do know help, particularly mass testing and tracing, are nowhere near in place.

And yet we plow ahead.

It’s worth noting at this point the people most stridently calling for a reopening of the world are the people least at risk.  Writing a column involves no actual face-to-face human contact, which puts the whole idea of safety as something of an abstraction.

It makes me, to put it mildly, fucking livid.  Because every time someone says the economy is suffering with people at home, it ignores all the people who are going to leave their homes and get sick.  That will pass on the virus to their loved ones.  That will die.

Maybe it’s not so easy for me to dismiss this because I live among people.  Maybe it’s the hospital orderly who lives around the corner, and took care of my father-in-law as he was dying several years ago will see her hospital fill up with the sick and contagious.  Maybe it’s because of the cashier who lives down the street, or the Canadian Tire clerk on the next block, will have to make do with paltry (or non-existent) raises while their stores fill up.  Maybe it’s because of the woman who lives downstairs and whose need for dialysis doesn’t give her the luxury of just staying home.

Maybe it’s because I live in a neighbourhood where these people are not abstractions, or fleeting interactions at the checkout counter, but real people — my neighbours — that this is obvious to me.

But it does not seem quite so obvious to the people making the decisions.

These people are not abstract data points.  They are the people that are about to bear the brunt of the consequences for the reopening of our economy.  And make no mistake, there will be consequences.  Quebec’s chief medical officer said outright there will likely be additional deaths because of the decision to reopen.

“I hope not too many people will die.  But make no mistake, the virus is here, and it is here for a long time,” Dr. Horatio Arruda said when the plan was first announced, according to The Globe and Mail.  “We know it’s a risky bet.  But we can’t eliminate this virus.  It will circulate.  The question is, ‘How do we balance everything?’  The economy, money, mental health. … It isn’t just infectious diseases that are determinants of health.”

The balance has been tipped then.

From here on out, the economy will increasingly become the most important factor in decision making.  And the people that keep our service economy going are the ones left to have their fates decided for them.

They are others to be sacrificed.  Perhaps with regret, but sacrificed nonetheless.  That’s what going back to normal right now is, a sacrifice.  Not of us, but of them.  If you want things to get back to normal, that’s what you’re asking for: someone else’s sacrifice.

Photo Credit: Jeff Burney, Loonie Politics

More from Robert Hiltz.     @robert_hiltz

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