Pandemic Ponderings

This province’s Minister of Health talks life and times during COVID-19


As someone who loves the great outdoors, Dr. John Haggie, MHA for Gander and Minister of Health and Community Services, says he gets how frustrating life has become under the current public health orders.

‘Trying to be cautious’

Speaking with The Herald the evening before the May 24th weekend, Haggie shared he felt the pain himself. 

“I’m a camper. I can’t go to my site either. Campgrounds and camping are great, but there’s a social aspect to that lifestyle, and would people stay on their own campsite? That’s the issue,” he begins.

While conversations are ongoing on the matter, the first great kickoff to camping season has passed. Is there hope things can change?

“There’s no playbook for any of this,” he says. “The concern for Dr. Fitzgerald (NL’s Chief Medical Officer) is that we’ve done so well. She’s trying to be cautious in this unknown situation. From my point of view too, it’s good for you to be outside, it’s good physically, it’s good for your brain, but the worry is, how do you control the things people are used to doing when they go camping.”

Cause for celebration

Still, camping or not right yet, there’s cause for celebration of sorts. 

“Some days you look back and realize how far you’ve come in 70 days. There’s not always time for reflection when things are happening in the moment. There were days I thought to myself, how on earth can we explain that yesterday we said black was white but now white is white? Masks. Recommendations to wear or not wear. We really had to change things on short notice based on new understandings of a disease no one really understood.”

Tough at times

It was like the flu, only it wasn’t, he continued. “No one had seen anything like it before. We are ducking and weaving constantly,” he adds.

It’s been tough at times, he admits.

“One of the things I learned from my surgical days is how hard it can be to gain credibility, and it’s easier to lose than you’d think. Inconsistency and uncertainty isn’t a great place to be, but that’s where we are. People, myself included, want certainty, even if it’s bad news. But we’re not in that position.”

That’s why erring on the side of caution is the best strategy at the moment, he says. “One mistake can trip us up and damage us more than admitting this is a fluid situation and that we just don’t know,” he says. 

Dr Haggie says working side-by-side with the premier, Dwight Ball, and with Dr. Janice Fitzgerald has been eye opening. “(Dr. Fitzgerald) has really stepped up. I only started working closely with her during Stormageddon and that’s when we realized something was happening from a possible pandemic point of view so we started looking at contingency plans.” 

Day-to-day realities

The premier of course, Haggie’s worked with over the years as both a MHA and as a cabinet minister. But as things evolved, their relationship strengthened. “We rushed to come to grips with what was going on. We built a team quickly. I was a retired physician, but not a public health physician, and we needed experts like Dr. Fitzgerald. There’s mutual trust among us and we don’t second guess one another,” he says sincerely. 

With so much happening, from job losses to health care concerns, can he give the province any insight into when things will get back to normal? Leading into the May 24th weekend, thoughts are on camping and getting away from the day-to-day realities of living life during a pandemic. 

“Hang in there. Things will return to some sort of normal when they can return to normal. I want to be at my camper just as much as the next person. The challenge is, how do you do that in a way that doesn’t set us back eight weeks. We just can’t risk that.” 

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