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I Made Predictions for Pandemic ’22. How Did I Do?

Fourteen months ago I guessed how we’d rally in response. Optimism can blind.

Crawford Kilian 10 Jan 2022 |

Tyee contributing editor Crawford Kilian blogs about the pandemic here.

At the end of October 2020, I opened up my science-fiction writer’s toolbox and took a shot at what the pandemic might look like as of January 2022, which would be two years after my first Tyee story on the “novel pneumonia” in Wuhan.

Boy, did I get a lot of stuff wrong.

In my own defence, I must point out that SF writers are lousy prophets. We never imagined the first moon landing would be televised, or that the internet would take over our lives.

Looking back at my story now, I can see I’d succumbed to a common mental condition widely seen in the pandemic: unwarranted optimism. Every time a scary new development emerges, we try to find a silver lining: Omicron may infect us all, but it’s mild, it’s mild!

So I assumed that the early successes of countries like Vietnam, Taiwan and New Zealand would continue and other nations would learn from them. Instead, they relaxed and were slow to obtain and deploy vaccines; Vietnam especially has paid a high price.

Similarly, I predicted Canada would have 512,000 cases and 13,000 deaths by now. The real numbers, according to Our World in Data: 2.36 million cases and over 30,000 deaths.

I imagined just three vaccines, with the Chinese the most successful. Instead, we have far more vaccines in development or in use. While I anticipated Canadian vaccine mandates and resistance, I had no idea we’d hoard vaccines for our own people rather than share them with the poor and middle-income countries of the Global South.

The same cockeyed optimism led me to imagine an overhauled Public Health Agency of Canada, led by none other than Dr. Bonnie Henry. PHAC certainly needs a rebuild, but it won’t likely happen until well after the current Omicron spike (which optimists tell us is likely to be tall but brief). And Dr. Henry is still in B.C. crooning lullabies about “challenges” while still telling us as little as possible about the pandemic in B.C.

The pandemic’s economic damage made me too confident that we’d adopt a basic income plan as a permanent replacement for CERB and other improvised income-support programs. And I was sure Ottawa would also take over the for-profit long-term care corporations to ensure that seniors would get excellent care and protection from COVID.

Once the Liberals got over their initial shock, however, they realized that sickness and death among essential workers and the elderly were more of a political nuisance than a mortal threat to re-election. Besides, voters in Canada seem as bizarrely patient about the government’s response as do voters in most other countries. As in the U.S., Australia, the Netherlands and a few other countries, Canadian protests have come from the anti-science right-wingers who think their rights are being trampled. Most of us quietly wait for the government to bring back 2019.

I think I did get a few things right: the need to look after Canadians’ mental health, and the need to understand long COVID and find appropriate treatments for it. Even if new infections stopped tomorrow, many COVID-19 survivors will need care for years to come.

And one thing I called perhaps a little too accurately. I mentioned an imaginary avian flu, H3N5, popping up in Indonesia about now. No such flu, happily. But H5N1, a real avian flu, has recently been hitting poultry all over Europe after being almost invisible for years. And now it’s infected a person in England, the U.K.’s first human case. His name is Alan Gosling, and he is reportedly asymptomatic and self-isolating — but very upset about the deaths of his pet ducks.

H5N1 was the virus that first got me interested in pandemics. I’d hate to see it suddenly come back with the ability to jump from birds to humans more easily. In its ordinary form, it’s infected only 863 persons — and killed 456 of them. An H5N1 variant that deadly and as infectious as Omicron could make the current pandemic look like the sniffles going around a kindergarten.  [Tyee]

Read more: Politics, Coronavirus

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