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These are not the Hunger Games you think they are

This week's Market Squared talks about why we need the government to hold up its end as we look to this latest phases of the pandemic, and beyond
Screenshot 2022-01-07 4.46.04 PM

I kept hearing people and politicians using the term 'Hunger Games' to explain the last few weeks of the fight against COVID, because of the way people were lining up in the wee small hours for test kits and scouring the internet for any and every available vaccination slot.

I don’t think people really know what The Hunger Games was about.

In the Suzanne Collins trilogy of novels, the titular games are the highlight of life in Panem, a post-apocalyptic version of America where 12 districts service the opulent capital city. Two children from each of the districts are pitted against each other in a battle to the death until one of them is left. That person is considered a national hero, set for life and provided with wealth, status and celebrity.

Collins’ books go into detail about how there are young people that train for the Hunger Games in the wealthier districts, they prepare like Olympians for their moment to “chase gold.” Children in the poorer districts, like the books’ hero Katniss Everdeen, are too busy toiling on the fringes to train, and often become canon fodder in the games unless gifted with some natural skill or guile to help them survive.

In this regard, our recent fight against the pandemic has been very much like The Hunger Games.

Privilege, you see, has made the difference for some of us. The people who have gotten rapid tests have had the time to wait in line for hours to get one. The people who have gotten boosters have had the time to be able to sit at the computer all day looking for an appointment or have been able to drop everything when a clinic or pharmacy calls to say they’ve got extra doses.

And yes, I include myself among the privileged. Through a family connection, I got one of those calls that a vaccine clinic had extra booster doses that they were trying to give away, and I was able to run right out and get the shot. I was lucky, and I know others are not as lucky. 

And speaking of games, we’ve seen the language of the vaccine messaging change as people who are unvaccinated have been phrased as the bad guys. Even the prime minster got in on the act saying, "It's not just about governments and health workers frustrated that there are Canadians who still continue to choose to not get vaccinated. It's fellow Canadians as well."

But what are the barriers to people who still haven’t gotten vaccinated? Around 16 per cent of Ontarians have still not yet gotten their first shot. That’s nearly 900,000 people in the province, and not all of them fit into the category of vaccine hesitant, at least as a political or societal stand on the issue.

How many people in Ontario, even in our own community, want to get a vaccine but can’t book an appointment because they don’t have access to a computer, or because they lack the computer skills, or because they don’t speak English as a first language, or because they have medical questions or concerns that they can’t get answered because they don’t have a family physician.

This is where all those Hunger Games analogies get it wrong, because the point isn’t the mad scramble for resources, the point is that just like the people of Panem, we live in a society where the government is systemically built to pit us against one and other, not bring us together to act for the common good.

You see, the problems in our healthcare sector were not created by the pandemic, they were lying in wait for a pandemic to make those issues a crisis. Of course, many healthcare workers would argue that the crisis already existed before the pandemic, and in many cases they’re probably right.

The average number of hospital beds in Canada per capita was 6.75 per 100,000 in 1980, but the number of hospital beds in Canada per capita in 2019 was 2.52 per 100,000.

But what did we hear this week? The blame did not fall on the failures of successive governments, but on a plane full of Sunwing bros partying mask-less on their way to Mexico like it was a B-52s video. They’re the ones to blame for our current predicament! They’re the ones refusing to take this seriously! Just because you wear a serious face though, it doesn’t mean you’re taking things seriously.

The final twist of The Hunger Games is when Katniss realizes that the so-called good guys have been using the same propagandistic tactics of the bad guys to overthrow the government of Panem, and that she’s been made a pawn twice over.

We’re Katniss. The government has put it all on us to get out of the pandemic, which is why we’ve suffered so much confusion and frustration in the last few weeks. We did good, we got our shots, but the pandemic isn’t over. And more than that, we basically find ourselves back at square two, if not square one.

Just like in the book, the government created these Hunger Games, and if they really wanted to, it is within their power to stop them as well.