Quebec’s right-wing Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government is in a frantic race to remove all remaining public health measures against COVID-19.
François Legault, the multi-millionaire ex-CEO who is premier of the province, set the tone during a press conference on February 8. He announced a “plan” to end the “lockdowns” and promised that “the bulk” of the remaining anti-COVID measures will be eliminated by March 14 at the latest.
Since Saturday February 12, the government has allowed private gatherings of 10 people, in time for mass infection parties during the following day’s Super Bowl, and increased restaurant capacity. February 14 saw the reopening of fitness centers at 50% capacity and the resumption of indoor sports activities. Mandatory remote work for most office workers will end on February 28. From March 7, school students will no longer have to wear masks in class. Finally, on March 14, the government will lift all capacity limits in restaurants, theaters and other commercial establishments.
Highlighting the government’s recklessness, he abandoned most measures to limit contact in nursing homes, where more than 4,000 people died in the devastating first wave of the pandemic.
During his press conference, the Prime Minister repeated once again that Quebecers had to “learn to live with the virus”. In January, Legault admitted that phrase meant accepting more hospitalizations, deaths and a likely sixth wave of the pandemic. Demonstrating once again his utter disregard for human life, he presented his plan as a ‘calculated risk’, meaning the government is willing to accept an unknown number of deaths in order to remove all restrictions on hoarding. of private profit.
Legault may deny reality and order Quebecers to “get back to normal”, but the pandemic continues unabated as capitalist governments around the world, including the federal Liberal government of Justin Trudeau, let the virus spread among the population by lifting all health restrictions.
On February 8, when the CAQ announced its intention to abolish all public health measures, 56 people died of COVID-19. Nearly 2,400 people remained in hospital with the disease, more than three times the number cited by the government at the start of the Omicron wave as representing regular hospital capacity and 400 more than the so-called “critical threshold”.
Despite a slow downward trend, the daily 7-day average of deaths now stands at 25, and nearly 1,800 people remain hospitalized.
Moreover, even though the government has limited access to PCR tests, the positivity rate is around 9%, almost double the threshold at which the World Health Organization considers the pandemic to be out of control.
On February 10, the acting director of public health, Dr. Luc Boileau, revealed that approximately 2 million Quebecers, a figure later revised to 3 million, have been infected since the start of the fifth wave fueled by Omicron in December 2021. This staggering statistic, covering well over a quarter of the population, was welcomed on the unscientific basis that it would facilitate “herd immunity”. According to the Montreal daily The Presshealth officials also called it “reassuring” when they announced that between 35% and 40% of children had been “in contact” with the virus during the Omicron wave.
In reality, these horrific levels of infection mean continued death and a long, debilitating full-scale COVID.
Since December 1, Quebec has officially recorded 2,350 additional deaths, an increase of more than 20% in the total number of deaths that COVID-19 has caused in the province in less than three months. This is the highest number of deaths since the first wave of 2020, when vaccines were not available and Quebec had one of the highest per capita death rates in the world.
Not only is the Omicron wave far from over, but preliminary studies warn that the Omicron BA.2 subvariant, already present in Quebec, could be even more contagious and deadly.
Despite this dire situation, Legault’s reckless plan has not been enough for the ruling class, which is determined to end once and for all any public health measures that might encroach on the exploitation of the working class and the funneling huge profits into the pockets of the rich.
In unveiling their plan to “end lockdowns”, Legault, Health Minister Christian Dubé and Dr Boileau said the vaccine passport, which limits access of the unvaccinated to non-essential places, was here to stay. . However, within days, the government reversed course and announced on February 15 that this measure would also be lifted by March 14. Dr. Boileau justified this decision with a series of lies about Omicron, claiming that it was “less virulent” and that he was a “before and after Omicron”.
Boileau then reiterated that no changes were planned for the mask mandate, saying that “the epidemiological situation does not allow us to remove the mask at this stage”. It was another lie.
February 19, The Press reported that “public health authorities will seriously analyze this weekend the possibility of announcing the end of mandatory masks in primary and secondary schools”. In support of this reversal, since confirmed, Dr. Boileau recited a litany of anti-science lies used around the world to attack the mask mandate: that the millions of people recently infected, including hundreds of thousands of children, would be unlikely to be re-infected and that masking hinders children’s development.
Then on Wednesday, the CNESST, Quebec’s Commission for Occupational Health and Safety, ruled that masks will no longer be mandatory in workplaces as of February 28 provided that a distance of two meters can be maintained. maintained between each worker. Yet it has long been established that COVID-19 is spread primarily through aerosols which can spread well beyond two meters and can quickly accumulate in poorly ventilated schools and workplaces.
The Quebec government, like those in North America and Europe, responded to the Omicron wave by eliminating all remaining mitigation measures designed to protect the population from the debilitating and potentially deadly COVID-19 virus. They have redoubled their efforts in their murderous “profits before life” policy in which working people are forced to work full throttle in the midst of a global pandemic in order to enrich the banks, big corporations and wealthy investors. The new mantra is “life must return to normal”.
That the CAQ’s campaign to dismantle anti-COVID measures gained momentum in early February is no coincidence. This coincided with the occupation of downtown Ottawa by the so-called “Freedom Convoy”, a far-right movement demanding an immediate end to all anti-COVID-19 measures. This movement has been promoted and encouraged by powerful sections of the Canadian ruling elite because it serves as a battering ram against the widespread opposition of the working class, the vast majority of the population, to their murderous policies.
In Quebec, a “freedom convoy” of fringe and in some cases criminal elements twice staged weekend-long protests in downtown Quebec, encouraged by far-right sections of the class. Quebec leader. The leader of the Conservative Party of Quebec (PCQ), close to conspiracy theory and anti-vaccine circles, supports the protests and uses them to demand an immediate end to vaccine passports and all COVID-19 mitigation measures. 19.
Duhaime, the leader of what has hitherto been an almost invisible party, is now promoted by the mainstream media due to his vocal opposition to public health measures. As a result, support for the PCQ in opinion polls has soared above 10%, a development the ruling class will seek to use to push politics even further to the right.
Legault himself cited the convoy’s far-right protests as justification for his government’s desire to scrap the latest COVUD mitigation measures. “Beyond the demonstration”, he declared during his press conference on February 8, “I think that it is necessary to note that there are more and more Quebecers who find that there has too many constraints due to COVID.”
This upsets reality. The polls all show strong popular support for maintaining public health measures. If there is unease among a section of workers, it is because of the disorientation caused by the ruinous pandemic policies of the Liberal Legault and Trudeau governments. In particular, their removal of all financial support for workers and small businesses affected by the pandemic; and their rejection of a science-based Zero COVID policy, in favor of a profit-driven “mitigation” and “vaccine only” strategy that has led to five successive waves of mass infections and deaths.
As the absence of any criticism from opposition parties and pro-capitalist unions demonstrates, the ruling class and privileged layers of the middle class are united in their desire for a return to capitalist “normalcy”.
This is the case of the pseudo-left Québec solidaire. He denounces the state of health emergency imposed by the Legault government, not because it served as a pretext to attack the working conditions of public sector employees, but from the right as an overly restrictive measure that would have had to be lifted as part of the “plan to end lockdowns.
Only the independent political mobilization of the working class in the fight for a Zero COVID policy that prioritizes saving lives over capitalist profit can end the pandemic nightmare that continues to cover the planet with a veil of death, disease and misery without end in sight.