Commentary: Not so fast Vancouver Island – there’s a way to go yet

Commentary: Not so fast Vancouver Island - there’s a way to go yet
File photo/CHEK
A woman in a mask walks through Mayfair Shopping Centre, where many stores are still closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vancouver Island has had no new COVID-19 cases in a while now and has one of the lowest records in Canada, so you could be forgiven for thinking that we’re now fairly immune here. And live in one of the safest places on the planet.

And can start to breathe out.

“We’re pretty safe here,” is the mantra. Very lucky. Not too much danger. And there’s a sense we can relax a little, lower our guard – as long as we keep everyone else off the island and keep to ourselves. And don’t live in a care home.

Stores and restaurants have started reopening. You can have your hair cut again. Provincial parks are open and the camping reservation lines are jammed. So, pretty close to normal, right?

But be careful – it ain’t over ‘til it’s over, or until Bonnie Henry says so. And that’s the biggest fear of health officials – that we go back to where we were too fast and undo all the good we’ve done over the past couple of months. Months that have seemed like an eternity.

While many on Vancouver Island are still practising safe distancing and wearing masks in confined spaces. A whole bunch more are becoming more cavalier.

I saw it in my local hardware store. I went there two weeks ago and all the customers and staff kept at least two metres away from one another, respectful and careful. When two of us were in the same aisle, one would back off and give the other some space. I felt very safe.

Yesterday I was in the same store to pick up a 69-cent nut for my lawnmower. I was trying to find the right size in the aisle when another customer came alongside me and started looking at the shelves.

“I’ll just be a second,” I said, but he kept sidling alongside me, so I retreated – and into another customer barrelling down the aisle from the opposite direction.

I did my best impersonation of John Wayne – “back off, feller” – though I didn’t say feller or, in fact, back off, but said “excuse me”, and he did back off and I escaped, twirling my six-gun…well, my eyeglasses.

I guess that’s it. We all need to continue to back off, even though the temptation is to walk slap-bang into normal again.

And, yes, we are all yearning for some normalcy. This weekend I got to hug all my three grandkids and both our daughters for the first time in months, as we expanded our bubble – as Dr. Henry said we can start to do. And it was priceless. My four-year-old grandson kept coming back for more and more hugs. That’s fine, I told him. Keep ‘em coming. We have a bunch to catch up on.

And I find myself lightening up a little. We disinfected all our groceries a month ago or left them outside for a day or so. Now we tend to leave them in the garage for a couple of hours before bringing them into the kitchen – but no disinfecting.

We may have done a good job of flattening the curve on Vancouver Island, and though we are deterring visitors, they will eventually arrive – by sea and by air – and we have to be ready. That means caution. Not rushing back into large gatherings or invading someone else’s space.

Dr. Henry was asked recently if, because of the lack of cases on Vancouver Island, we should adopt a regional approach in B.C. – easing off, say, here more than in the Lower Mainland. She dismissed the idea instantly. We are all, she said, in this together and said she would continue a B.C.-wide strategy.

And despite the low number of cases on the island, we never can be quite sure of who out there has the virus. It only takes a droplet.

We think we’ve done relatively well in Canada, but in absolute numbers of those infected by COVID-19, we’re nearer the top than the bottom of the list – in 13th place. Above us are the likes of the United States, Italy, the UK, Spain, Germany, India and France. Below us are China, Chile, Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands, Sweden and Portugal. Australia and New Zealand are way down the list. At the bottom? Many other islands like Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Papua New Guinea and St. Kitts.

Last week my wife and I had tea and cake at Tonolli’s, the delightful deli and coffee shop on the East Saanich Road. We sat in the garden – the only customers at the time, so no self-distancing challenges there – and it was delightful. And near normal. And the apple cake was delicious.

It felt normal. Or near normal. The server was behind plexiglass and we tapped on the card machine without having to physically engage. And then we disinfected our hands.

It was, and is, a step in the right direction.

Small steps. One at a time. Towards near normal. That should be our mantra. Even here in paradise.

Ian Haysom’s coronavirus diary will appear here regularly.

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