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Ashley Bernier and her son Hartley, 12, who was born with intestinal failure and is at high risk of contracting COVID-19, with dad Daniel, Hudson, 10, and Sully, 6, at their Newmarket, Ont., home on Feb. 28.J.P. MOCZULSKI/The Globe and Mail

Ashley Bernier is tired of the pandemic – the constant masking, the anxiety about getting sick, not being able to see people. But with three kids, including a medically fragile son who already requires weekly visits to the hospital, Ms. Bernier and her family aren’t as ready and willing to put the pandemic behind them as so many other people seem to be.

Ms. Bernier’s oldest son, Hartley, was born with intestinal failure and spends 16 hours a day hooked up to an IV pump at their home in Newmarket, Ont. At 12 years old, he’s already had more than 25 surgeries. Any exposure to a virus – a cold, a flu, COVID-19 – could be lethal. After a stomach virus a few years ago, he had to spend nearly a month in the hospital.

Families like the Berniers are anxiously watching as pandemic restrictions ease across Canada. This week, Saskatchewan became the first province to end all COVID-19 measures, including mandatory mask-wearing in indoor public spaces. Alberta also lifted nearly all of its health restrictions, and Ontario has discontinued proof of vaccination requirements at non-essential businesses and removed capacity limits in indoor settings. The province has suggested mask mandates will soon follow. Quebec is dropping its mask mandate in schools after students return from their March break, and in public spaces by mid-April, and its vaccine passport system ends on on March 12.

Yet as fed up as many people may be with pandemic precautions – “Everyone’s done with this,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said on Feb. 15 – the more vulnerable among us, and their caregivers, are pleading for a bit more solidarity.

“We just don’t ever have the luxury of saying, ‘Yeah, we’re tired of this, so I guess we won’t wear masks any more. We will stop being safe,’” Ms. Bernier says. “We’re tired of it too, but we just don’t have the luxury of putting our guard down.”

Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, a family physician in Ottawa, is urging society not to forget those of us most at risk. That includes kids like Hartley; all babies and children under five (who can’t be vaccinated yet); and the millions of Canadians who are immunocompromised or immunosuppressed – the cancer patients, the organ transplant recipients, all the people who make up the roughly one in seven Canadians age 15 and over who have a compromised immune system, according to Statistics Canada data from 2020.

“Many people are still vulnerable,” Dr. Kaplan-Myrth says. “It’s just irresponsible to act as if the pandemic is over. That is a level of disrespect and disregard for the vulnerable people in our population that is unconscionable. Why wouldn’t we want to do everything that we can to continue to protect people?”

Vaccinations and masking are measures we can use to keep each other safe, says Dr. Kaplan-Myrth. “We have tools, and we’re saying now we’re not going to bother using them.”

But two years in, it may be harder than ever to convince large numbers of people to continue to make sacrifices for the well-being of others.

“There is compassion fatigue,” Dr. Kaplan-Myrth says. “Even the people who are compassionate are exhausted and feeling pretty demoralized at this point.”

Kath Stevenson, a mother of two who lives in Saskatoon, says her province’s decisions to lift all restrictions is evidence of that fatigue. She has a seven-year-old son with a B-cell deficiency that makes him prone to pneumonia, and a four-year-old daughter who is too young to be vaccinated.

“There was just this feeling at the beginning of the pandemic that we were all in this together, and that’s obviously gone away,” Ms. Stevenson says. “I’ve experienced a lot of anxiety and anger.”

Several times in recent months, Ms. Stevenson says she has been the target of aggression from others for wearing a mask, and she worries about more incidents now that her province has dropped masking requirements.

Ms. Stevenson will continue to mask in public places in order to protect both her kids.

“We have a very ableist society,” Ms. Stevenson says. “It’s those of us who have vulnerabilities that aren’t going to do well.”

Aurelie Chojnowicz, a Toronto shop owner, has been dealing with constant anxiety over the course of the pandemic because she was born with Factor V Leiden, a genetic condition that makes her particularly susceptible to blood clots in her lungs and legs.

“I feel like I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in two years,” says the mother of two kids, ages six and four.

Ms. Chojnowicz will continue to wear an N-95 mask, but has yet to decide if she will require customers visiting her business to mask inside even after that requirement is lifted.

“I can’t afford to have people not enter my store because I want them to do something,” she says.

Instead, she’ll deal with more sleepless nights.

Ms. Bernier and her family will stay hunkered down at home for the foreseeable future. They hardly ever leave other than for hospital visits and the occasional walk. Her husband, an elementary-school teacher, is on a leave of absence because he can’t risk bringing COVID-19 into the house. All three kids will remain in virtual school until the end of the year.

“That feeling that everyone had in the beginning – that we were all in this together – I wish that could carry on a little bit longer,” Ms. Bernier says.


COVID-19 rules across Canada

B.C.

There are no capacity limits for restaurants, bars and large gatherings such as weddings. Masks are still required in indoor public settings, but Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Tuesday she is hopeful that more restrictions may be lifted by mid-March. Passport requirements are still in effect, but B.C. is considering removing the passport for indoor events earlier than the planned expiry date at the end of June, Dr. Henry said.

Alberta

Lifted its mask mandate and withdrew capacity limits for indoor and outdoor social gatherings March 1. The province’s passport system ended Feb. 9.

Saskatchewan

The province’s remaining public-health orders, including wearing masks indoors and having to self-isolate following a positive COVID-19 test, were all discontinued on March 1.

Manitoba

The province lifted its proof of vaccination requirement for public places on March 1. It plans to end its mask mandate by March 15.

Ontario

The province’s vaccine passport requirement, indoor capacity limits and restrictions on social gatherings all expired on March 1. A mask mandate remains in effect.

Quebec

All remaining proof of vaccine passport requirements and capacity limits on bars, restaurants, funerals and weddings will be lifted March 12, two days ahead of schedule, Health Minister Christian Dubé said this week. Quebec’s mask mandate will be lifted for all public places except mass transit by mid-April at the latest, the province’s Health Department said.

New Brunswick

All pandemic-related restrictions and mandates will be lifted March 14.

Nova Scotia

As of Feb. 28, proof of vaccination is not required at restaurants, bars, sporting events, gyms and other events and activities.

P.E.I.

Eliminated its Vax Pass requirement on Feb. 28. Capacity limits for gatherings will increase March 17, and all capacity limits and masking requirements are expected to lift April 7.

Newfoundland and Labrador

Effective March 14, there will be no restrictions for businesses or other settings, and wearing a non-medical mask in indoor public settings will be encouraged but not required.

Yukon

Wearing a mask in indoor public places and showing proof of vaccination are both still required. Capacity limits are still in effect.

North West Territories

Mask-wearing in indoor public spaces is still required under public-health orders.

Nunavut

The territory eased restrictions last month to allow outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people and indoor private gatherings of up to 10 people.

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