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(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, February 26, 2022)

It was on the streets of Uganda with shoppers scurrying to beat the rain when the masked woman with the colourful umbrella passed me, or I passed her, a moment, like 10 million others, that would already be forgotten if not for my handy phone camera.

Later, in Kampala, reading a recent global edition of China Daily, I came across a photo of a Torontonian up to his neck in snow, his shovel in-hand and task before him. It was a fun juxtaposition of a Canadian scene in a Chinese paper read in the heart of Africa. And a reminder of how, in our age of easy (dis)information, nobody’s ever further than a sneeze away.

We’re captivated, if not held captive, by the weather. For centuries, human survival revolved around weather and crops, even as our relationship with the weather, certainly during climate change, remains crucial.

I personally don’t mind some rumbling clouds followed by an incessant downpour. Or not. What, now the sun? This is the weather in a place like Uganda. Very local. Very changeable. Forget your weather app. There’s rainy season. There’s dry season. There’s no freeze-the-snot-on-your-nose season. Like in much of the Global South – home to about 3.5 billion people – if it dips much below 20 C, you’ll see the parkas and toques come out.

This is the time to mention Canadian winters. “Really? Minus 10 degrees? Minus 20? Oh my!” There’s no better way to transfix someone from a mild-weather nation. People (as the joke goes about the British, but it’s not only the British) love to talk about the weather, even if they don’t do anything about it.

Which, speaking of the pandemic, is getting to today’s point. Oh, we weren’t speaking about the pandemic? Well let’s. Because isn’t this a reasonable and helpful way to understand it, like the seasons we know so well?

Restrictions are lifting. Finally. Again. Spring, in plenty of places, is on the way. In Ontario, a simple restaurant meal with a friend or loved one who never got jabbed is around the sunny corner. Catch a movie. A game. A concert. Throw a big house party. Forget bra burnings, how about burning our masks? Maybe? Sometime? Let’s hope.

Even so, there’s still this inconvenient truth that the pandemic will do what it wants despite our hopeful forecasts. Not that there’s anything wrong with the mantra, “We need to learn to live with it.” It’s true. We do. This is why we have umbrellas and shovels. Vaccines, restrictions and masking have helped keep us at least half dry, and helped us dig out of the worst.

In the last global pandemic 100 years ago, with no vaccine cover, about 50 million people perished. This time with COVID-19 vaccines? About six million to date. And the science – thank God for it – is still our best barometer of tomorrow.

Consider about 2.8 billion people worldwide have received no vaccine and, globally, there’s no herd immunity. So another variant can still arrive in 2022. And it may or may not be gentle. Remember, Omicron didn’t come from Delta, but another branch of the coronavirus family tree. So as we open with the view that we’re nearing the endemic stage, let’s remember that seasons can change.

Consider also that “full” vaccination gave about 80 per cent protection against Delta, but, without boosters, just 30 per cent against Omicron. So be ready. This is what many scientists are maintaining, including several who recently spoke to the UK’s Guardian newspaper “Living with it” means more boosters for future variants.

In the meantime, the scientists keep working on a single universal vaccine. This, so we can stop the endless game of whack-a-mole with Alpha or Beta or Delta or you-name-the-variant, and stand safe under a larger, more protective roof. But building that cover takes time.

Will it take a year? Two? Also unknown.

So let’s enjoy where we are. But keep our bearings.