COMMENTARY: COVID complacency is the new enemy

COMMENTARY: COVID complacency is the new enemy
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You’ll have noticed, I assume, that all hell is breaking out around us, COVID-wise. 

While we on Vancouver Island go about our business with a certain smug complacency – “we’re saved, Hallellujah” – record numbers of coronavirus cases are being reported in Mexico and the United States on an almost daily basis.

On Thursday Mexico reported a fresh record of  7,280 cases and 730 additional fatalities, bringing their death toll to 33,526.

In the United States they are now up to more than 136,000 dead and, overall, there have been 3,250,000 cases, with 57,000 new cases on Thursday alone.

And worldwide, the World Health Organization reported a record increase in global coronavirus cases Friday, with the total rising by 228,102 in 24 hours. The biggest increases were the United States, Brazil, India and South Africa.

Vancouver Island new cases: Zero.

Which is why, I guess, it feels like we’re into a new sci-fi movie here: COVID-19 – The Awakening.

Frankly, you’d be hard put to know there was a corona-crisis going on around here. The new normal is beginning to look a lot like the old normal, but with more plexiglass.

Just yesterday my buddy said he’d gone up-island to play golf. He’d travelled in his friend’s car. “I guess we sorta messed up social distancing,” he said, laughing. “But we’re all relaxing a little.”

Relax?  To paraphrase Frankie Goes To Hollywood. “Relax. Don’t Do it. When You Want To Go To it.”

Downtown Victoria, which just a couple of weeks ago was a virtual ghost town, is now bustling. Which is a good thing. Mostly. We need business, and life, to get going again.

Robinson’s outdoor store was jammed, and they were doing a great job of keeping us well apart. They were lined up outside Mountain Equipment Coop too. Everyone wants to buy stuff to go outdoors.

Earl’s, Brown’s Social House and Cactus Club restaurants were all full, and there were 30 minute waits. We ended up eating in Rebar in Bastion Square, where the tables were set far apart and we felt comfortable.

Walking around Victoria I saw only a couple of people wearing masks. All the stores that were open had plexiglass between the cashier and the customer. I looked through a hairdressers window and all the staff were wearing those welder-style masks.

In Wholefoods all the staff wore masks, but only two or three out of about 50 customers had masks on. Two weeks agao everyone was wearing a mask. Some of the customers made a wide berth around me, keeping true to physical distancing protocols, but many just steamed right by me.

That lack of caution was true in the streets of Victoria and Sidney too, where about half the people did the COVID sidewalk dance – tap-dancing to the side so you could pass at a safe distance – while a whole bunch more just barreled straight ahead.

This is unscientific, because I’m unscientific, but it seemed to me most of the people acting, well, somewhat recklessly were younger. Older people, by and large, kept their distance. Probably because they know they’re in the danger zone if they’re over 70. 

The tennis courts around the corner from my house are full. And kids are out on the baseball fields, hitting fly balls in readiness for the season ahead. There’s soccer and golf on TV, even if there are no crowds.

Our biggest enemy now, on Vancouver Island, is complacency. We are an island unto ourselves, and we figure we’re OK to start taking risks. Bubbles are expanding all the time. Bonnie Henry keeps asking us to be kind, calm and safe, but we’re lowering our guard on the safe part.

Our biggest fear, naturally, is importing the virus from elsewhere. Right now, “elsewhere” is Alberta and beyond. But once that border with the south opens, all bets are off.

I heard a health expert say it wouldn’t be safe to reopen the border with the United States until next year at the earliest. My sense is that Donald Trump will push Justin Trudeau hard to reopen the border before the November presidential elections so he can continue to pretend everything in the United States is just fine. This is a time for Canada to say no – repeatedly.

In the meantime, hotels and restaurants on the island are reopening cautiously. But it’s up to us not to let down our guard too far. We’ve seen in places like Melbourne, in Australia, that complacency can suddenly lead to disaster. The city, which thought it was free of the virus, is now in a lockdown because of a massive resurgence.

And one person, whether that be a Vancouver Islander or a Visitor from Elsewhere, could start this thing up all over again. Big time.

So, sure, relax.

But not too much.

Not yet.  We are not invincible. Even if we do live on an island.

Ian HaysomIan Haysom

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