No doubt CDC’s announcement will resonate around the world

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Let’s hope it does not fall on deaf Canadian ears. Dose two should mean freedom.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on May 17, 2021.

To mask or not to mask, that is the question.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States just issued a directive that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear a mask or practise social distancing.

The directive had immediate repercussions in the United States with politicians in the nation’s capital appearing maskless for the first time in more than a year.

Even the president emerged for his first mask-free press conference since the beginning of the pandemic. He vaunted his country’s aggressive vaccination strategy, revealing the country delivered 250 million shots in 114 days. Almost 60 per cent of the American population have already received at least one vaccine.

So, the president was celebrating the chance to be mask-free indoors and outdoors.

The directive has also led to some confusion, as the issue of masking has created a difficult political divide between pro and anti-maskers.

Some of those who have been promoting masking believe the new directive is erring on the side of COVID 19, not caution. But the CDC has backed up their directive with a simple message.

People who are fully vaccinated are safe. And vaccinated people are extremely unlikely to pass the infection along to others.

In Canada, our government is still waffling on what vaccinated Canadians can expect. The government is waiting for advice from Health Canada on the protocol in the post-vaccine world. They could be waiting for a very long time.

In the past 14 months, Canada has refrained from introducing national guidelines on vaccination so the story changes from province to province.

And even though there is absolutely no scientific reason to do so, the government requires fully vaccinated travellers to quarantine for 14 days upon their return to the country.

However, if you refuse to go to a COVID hotel in Ontario or British Columbia you face a fine of $3,000 while in Alberta, there is no fine.

Why? Because Alberta did not adopt the federal act for hotel quarantines. Even though Alberta announced tougher restrictions to fight soaring disease rates last week, that province and Saskatchewan have refused for more than 14 months to sign on to the Contraventions Act.

You can go golfing or play tennis in Quebec. In Ontario you can do neither as the provincial government is moving to extend a full lockdown into the month of June.

In the National Capital Region, an Ontarian is barred from hiking in the Gatineau Park which is about 10 minutes from Parliament since it is on the wrong side of the river. All this notwithstanding the fact that there is not a scintilla of evidence to support outdoor viral transmission.

The outdoors is our friend when it comes to the virus. That is where people can exercise, take in some fresh air, and return to sporting activities that keep them healthy. Sitting inside comes with its own set of health problems, especially for older people who need to keep moving in the fight against arthritis, diabetes, heart issues and many diseases that affect the aged.

Ontario has also decided to suspend all first doses of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, citing paucity of supply and potential health issues related to blood clots. Meanwhile the United Kingdom, vaccinating at the rate of 600,000 a day mostly with Astra Zeneca, announced last Monday there were no COVID deaths in England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is talking about a one-dose summer and a two-dose fall, claiming that all Canadians will be able to be fully vaccinated by the end of summer.

The country is moving ahead on accelerating the vaccination rollout, now jumping to the head of the line in vaccinations for all countries in the G7.

But a vaccination system without post-vaccination guidelines leaves people wondering just what is the point of vaccines?

And in the absence of clarity, confusion reigns.

There is still no national decision on the use of a vaccine passport.

Yet it stands to reason that if we want to return to normal life, a vaccine record can help guarantee safety and security of all.

In the workplace, vaccinated employees should be able to throw away their masks, especially in environments like packing plants and food processing companies where masks have been doubly challenging.

No doubt the CDC announcement will resonate around the world. Let’s hope it does not fall on deaf Canadian ears. Dose two should mean freedom.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.