Second COVID-19 wave brings new challenges

It was less than a year ago when the Wuhan virus, as it was first known, was first discovered.

In February, the World Health Organization named it COVID-19. In March, it was declared a pandemic and the world has been forever changed.

Within agriculture, the meat-packing industry faced serious hurdles as workers became infected and processing capacity was disrupted. Working through the backlog of hogs and cattle has been challenging, but it hasn’t been the disaster many feared.

Farms that rely on foreign labour faced special challenges in accessing workers, getting them through quarantine and keeping them safe from the virus. Disease outbreaks occurred, but vegetables and fruits were still produced and marketed.

Consumers have seen a few minor food shortages on store shelves, but farmers and the entire food distribution system are being praised for resilience and overall performance.

Focused primarily on export markets, Western Canada’s grain sector has sailed through the pandemic relatively unscathed. Grain movement and exports have been strong and the supply chain for farm inputs has found ways to continue in a mostly normal fashion.

The weather, for the most part, co-operated and a decent-sized crop with above average quality was produced and is being marketed at historically strong prices.

Unfortunately, a pandemic crisis most thought would be over in a matter of weeks, a few months at most, is still raging. Across Canada and especially in the United States, COVID is winning. Agriculture managed through the first wave of the pandemic, but the second wave brings new challenges.

The light at the end of the tunnel is the possibility of one or more effective vaccines. While that looks promising, it will still take time to finish testing for efficacy and safety. More time will be required to ramp up production and then it will be a huge task to roll out the vaccination program.

That light at the end of the tunnel is probably six months away even if everything goes well. In the meantime, there will be another two months with a belligerent, lame-duck American president doing his best to disrupt the transfer of power to someone who takes the pandemic seriously. Donald Trump is the hero for the anti-maskers who have even gained a following in Canada.

Many months into the pandemic with all the best medical minds in the world focused on COVID, it’s amazing how little we actually know about this enemy. Early on, Canadian officials downplayed the importance of masks and now masks are considered the most important defence from the spread of respiratory droplets.

Officials won’t say there’s zero risk from virus on surfaces, but that certainly receives less emphasis than masks and social distancing.

At this juncture, thoughts turn to the holiday season and how the pandemic may disrupt plans for families and friends to gather. Many people are also lamenting how a winter getaway doesn’t seem feasible.

Heading into seeding this spring, there was a great deal of anxiety about keeping workers and family members safe. There was also worry about accessing farm inputs, everything from fertilizer to equipment repairs. While the worst of those fears weren’t realized, that provides no guarantee for the year ahead.

With infections and deaths rising, those concerns could be even more legitimate as we approach the spring of 2021. Unfortunately, fatigue is replacing fear and it’s easy to let your guard down against an unrelenting, invisible enemy.

Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at kevin@hursh.ca

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