There is a picture going viral on social media today of a popular park in Toronto which was jammed full of people over the weekend, few of them wearing masks and many less than six feet apart.
It’s like they were just let out of jail and I am sure that many of them felt exactly that way.
We are basically social animals and even under the worst of circumstances can only hack a culture of isolation for so long. We are seeing signs everywhere that people are getting fed up and allowing their need for freedom and human contact to trump common sense and safety measures designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Governments of all stripes in Canada have recognized that you cannot keep people locked up indefinitely. That is why they are slowly opening things up; not because anyone has a handle on COVID-19, but rather because they know that rebellion against restrictions that are currently in place is a real possibility. Managing and controlling that will be a whole new ball game.
There is a very thin line between the pace at which society can be opened up and the ability of our health care system to handle the inevitable increase in serious COVID-19 cases. That is why it is important to allow this to happen on an incremental and well-controlled basis.
The hope is that the two will proceed in tandem, so that people can gradually move about more freely and the economy can begin a much-needed process of recovery without imploding our health care system.
But people like those yesterday, and likely today, in Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto are putting us in serious danger of blowing all that.
Here is what Premier Doug Ford said about this on Sunday: “The images I saw yesterday from Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto—I thought it was a rock concert. I was absolutely shocked. We just can’t have that right now. There is still a deadly virus among us and if we allow it, it will spread like wildfire.”
The key words here are, “We just can’t have that right now.” That, in my view, is code for lowering the boom.
COVID-19 cases are already increasing in Ontario. That was anticipated. But if people start to jump ahead of a carefully planned process of opening up, if they ignore safety protocols that are still in place, we will have a serious and elongated spike that our hospitals and health care providers cannot handle.
As Mayor Graydon Smith of Bracebridge said recently, this is not about a second wave of COVID-19. We are not yet out of the first one. For that reason alone, if people flaunt reasonable and necessary controls to hold the coronavirus in check, the hammer will inevitably come down and we will be in lockdown again. There are some serious consequences to that scenario. Even the most reasonable people are coming to an end of their patience.
As referenced above, there would be a real possibility of massive civil disobedience. That is not a pretty picture, but it is one for which governments at all levels will have to be prepared. We are seeing signs of it now and if further suppression of public activity becomes necessary because people won’t follow the rules, we will surely see more.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first became apparent, there was talk of the federal government invoking the War Measures Act to give them extraordinary powers that included suspending many civil rights of Canadians. Some of us will remember Justin Trudeau’s father doing just that during the FLQ crisis in Quebec. It remains a tool that the federal government can use and, in spite of all its implications, if things get out of hand there is a real possibility that they will do so.
Democracy tends to become more fragile through any national crisis and this pandemic is no exception. It is important, therefore, not to give government an excuse to exercise more power because once obtained they are often reluctant to relinquish it. Civil disobedience could easily become such an excuse for more power and for an unnecessary early election.
There is also, in my view, a real concern that another lockdown could cause irreparable damage to an already stressed economy. We cannot allow this to happen.
Therefore, it is immensely important to ensure that a controlled opening up of our society and our economy is feasible and works. This means following the rules and not moving too quickly. We can do more now. We can enjoy more outdoor activities, we can enjoy expanded shopping opportunities and, in a limited way, we can enjoy family and close friends. We can see light at the end of the tunnel. But, for now, we still need to respect physical distancing, limiting personal contact to groups no greater than five, and self-isolating at any sign of COVID-19 symptoms.
In Muskoka, this all means we will have a very different summer. It will be a strange experience without the theatres and concerts and outdoor events. But that will not last forever and, in the meantime, we can still enjoy the beauty and natural resources of Muskoka.
Contrary to the opinion of some, there is, in my view, no reason why seasonal residents cannot be here as well to enjoy their cottages and sit on their docks, as long as they follow the same rules we all are required to.
Sadly, however, tourism will suffer as we will be unable to allow crowded public beaches or large public gatherings. Hopefully, we can welcome tourists back with open arms next year.
Most importantly: we need to avoid another extended lockdown. It is up to each one of us to see that it does not become necessary.
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