When as a society do we begin to learn to live with COVID-19?

"We're not there yet," says Simcoe Muskoka Medical Officer of Health

South Korea was one of the first countries to test what it would be like “living with COVID,” a drive to return to normal life.

Introduced Nov. 1, a three-phase plan by the South Korean government to gradually lift restrictions previously imposed by COVID-19. With a vaccination rate of more than 80 per cent, experts across the country still feared the new policy could cause a spike in COVID-19 cases. Several countries had tested the waters previously and fell back into restrictions as COVID cases increased. South Korea’s test to hold the line and not break was something new.

Only weeks after a drive to return to a sense of normal, COVID-19 case counts soared, brought on by Omicron, a new and much more contagious variant.

Restrictions were imposed again, with a ban on private gatherings of more than four people, and a curfew for restaurants, cafes, bars and cinemas. This was supposed to last until Jan. 2, but the current four-limit on private gatherings and a 9 p.m. curfew on restaurants and cafes will continue until Jan. 16.

In Seoul, a New Year’s Eve concert featuring K-pop group Seventeen was allowed to go ahead, but fans were told not to cheer. In fact, a “no shout” warning was beamed throughout the venue, which was half-full.

In a submitted question as part of his regular Wednesday media briefing, Simcoe Muskoka Medical Officer of Health Dr. Charles Gardner was asked by Barrie 360 – when does society just begin to live with COVID-19?

“I don’t believe we’re there,” said Gardner. “Now, as we experience this new, very dramatic surge, although this variant (Omicron) shows less severity than most cases, by its infectiousness, it’s going to result in a high number of people that are quite ill and require hospital care and ICU care.”

“We need to do what we can to avoid that from happening.”

Gardner said people need to protect themselves, those they love, and the people around them.

“Be a part of the overall response to blunt this rise and to help manage and safeguard our capacity, meaning our health-care system.”

What Barrie 360 asked Gardner is a question he admitted has occurred to him from time to time during the pandemic.

“It’s a very tough question to answer,” he said. “So, we’re not there yet, and I am not sure when we will be there. No doubt, we will be there someday. But I don’t quite have an answer as to when or how that would take place.”

His comments come as Ontario reported a spike in the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19, a jump of more than 700 in the past day, and of those, 228 people are in intensive care. Health Minister Christine Elliott said 202 of those patients are unvaccinated.

The Ministry of Health has ordered hospitals to suspend all non-urgent surgeries and procedures in a bid to free up beds and preserve staffing levels.