It’s beginning to look a lot like … last year.
Festive feasts, gift exchanges and winter fun with loved ones are being cancelled or limited as COVID-19 rips through Canada for the second holiday season in a row, the highly-transmissible Omicron variant driving extra caution.
Still, some are moving forward with plans to celebrate, weighing the risk of contracting the disease or relying on vaccinations to provide safety.
“Literally, last Christmas, we kept all the blinds closed because we didn’t want anyone to see that we were eating dinner because we weren’t allowed,” Patricia MacDowell said on the phone from her Montreal home as she stuffed a turkey in preparation for Christmas Eve dinner.
MacDowell is not vaccinated against COVID-19. She said she is having over her mother, her nephew and his partner, who are all vaccinated.
With the Omicron variant spurring high case numbers across the country, MacDowell said she isn’t worried because she is in good health.
It’s just a matter of common sense, she said – people should stay home if they are sick and not give in to fear.
“At least now we’ll be able to leave the curtains open. While we eat, we won’t feel like we’re criminals.”
Toronto-based Dr. Naheed Dosani said it’s “part of his duty” as a front-line worker to forgo another year of in-person celebrating with extended family and friends to protect community health.
“As someone who has provided care for people who have dealt with COVID-19, been very sick with COVID-19 and died from COVID-19, this was a decision that was very natural for me,” said Dosani.
More than 30,000 Canadians have died from COVID-19, more than two-thirds of whom were residents of Quebec and Ontario. Close to two million people have contracted the virus since the pandemic began in early 2020.
“We have come so far and sacrificed so much that, at this time, a decision to put a hold on holiday get-together plans is the right thing to do,” said Dosani, warning that the Omicron variant could overwhelm health-care systems that are already resource-limited.
The doctor posted on social media that he was cancelling his holiday plans, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. But some voiced their opposition to missing another year of traditions, citing vaccinations or negative tests as precautions.
Dosani said the next few weeks are essential in pushing past the current wave of infections. If people follow public health advice, then Canadians will be able to “weather the storm.”
Warnings have been issued by top doctors across the country to ditch large gatherings for small bubbles over the holidays. Public health restrictions vary, depending on the province or territory.
“With Christmas Eve (today) and Kwanzaa beginning on Sunday, I want to repeat my encouragement to all Albertans to cut their in-person social contacts by at least half over the holidays,” said Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, on Thursday.
“Our family cancelled our in-person gathering even though it would have been in compliance with current rules. I believe the situation is that serious.”
Canada’s two largest provinces reported record-high COVID-19 case counts on Thursday. Quebec had 9,397 new cases and Ontario 5,790.
Quebec is allowing groups of 10 to gather for the Christmas, but come Boxing Day, gathering sizes will be reduced to six people or two family bubbles.
Ontario indoor gatherings are limited to 10 people. And in Alberta, 10 adults can gather, with no limits on the number of children.
The federal government advised earlier this month against international travel.
Toronto publicist Tracy Lamourie said she had planned a girls’ trip with her mother to the Mediterranean island of Malta for January. They’re double vaccinated and she’s not worried about the virus, but said with the uncertainty of flights and changing restrictions around the world they will likely delay the holiday.
“We have not cancelled it quite yet though and are still hopeful that there will be good news,” she said in an e-mail.
“It’s the possibility of flights being cancelled and air travel being grounded, getting us stranded away from home that is most frightening.
“It feels like we are right back in March 2020 … and that is hard to deal with.”