If the prevailing emotion of the first lockdown was fear, and frustration for the second, this third and hopefully last lockdown will be characterized by one pervasive sentiment: anger.
Anger first and foremost among the small business owners, whose livelihoods have been subject to the yo-yo shutdowns from provincial governments, which have abandoned any pretense of basing decisions on evidence and fact. On the same day in February that Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced his government would be releasing reopening plans for 27 regions, his own science advisory table presented modelling predicting a third-wave disaster. Yet this provincial government, having not learned the importance of staying two weeks ahead of the virus over the past 12 months, waited to change course until the signs of the third wave were undeniable.
Days after restaurants in grey “lockdown” regions were allowed to open their patios, Mr. Ford announced an abrupt about-face with the use of a province-wide “emergency brake.” The provincial government, having also not learned of the importance of harm reduction over the past 12 months and ignoring nearly all available evidence about COVID-19 spread outdoors – including recent data from Ireland tracing just 0.1 per cent of infections to outdoor transmission – ordered patios closed. The restaurants that had hired servers, purchased additional fresh food and draught beer and procured patio seating and equipment would simply have to make do. And those who were hoping for a little taste of normalcy can, well, get that taste of normalcy behind closed doors, I guess.
Hair stylists and other personal-service providers who had been working in regions operating under loosened restrictions were suddenly told to shut it down. Provincial data, however, shows that schools and child care were the source of the highest percentage (35 per cent) of outbreaks compared to all other locations over the past month (the next highest was workplace settings at 24 per cent), and that workplace-acquired infections are overwhelmingly occurring in industrial settings such as factories and distribution centres – not in retail and personal-service settings. But lacking any fresh ideas on how to telegraph “things are bad” again to the wider population, Ontario chose to sacrifice small business owners once more – despite the available evidence, and in a way that is impossible to justify. A stay-at-home order beginning Thursday will mean that so-called non-essential retail will again have to close to in-person shopping, which, ironically, could see Amazon distribution centres get even busier.
But the mood is not the same as it was in the first lockdown, when there was scant data about the nature and transmissibility of COVID-19, nor is it akin to that in the second, when there might have been at least some allowance for symbolic closures. This time, people understand that Ontario closing down campgrounds for the next 28 days, for example – which is one of the orders under the emergency brake – is akin to dousing a neighbour’s lawn with water when the adjacent house is on fire. It doesn’t really signal danger to the whole neighbourhood or put out the actual fire; all it does is tell people that the firefighter probably got drunk in the rig on the way over.
Indeed, this time, it is not primarily the anti-maskers and a rogue barbecue restaurant owner pushing back against indiscriminate lockdowns. Restaurants Canada and the Ontario Restaurant Hotel & Motel Association published a joint letter saying that the province is “scapegoating” the industry and demanding a revision to the emergency-brake framework. Last week, the owner of a Toronto restaurant sent a bill for the draught beer he ordered for his patio service to the province. And it’s happening outside Ontario, too; a B.C. coach and dad is urging the provincial government to allow kids to play outdoor sports, noting that the province allows sport practices, for some reason, but not actual games. In Calgary, a preacher went bananas on police (calling them “Nazis” and “Gestapo”) after they came by to check that his church was abiding by COVID-19 regulations.
Hysterics aside, it is understandable why a preacher – or restaurant owner, or soccer coach, or camping enthusiast, or outdoor fitness trainer – would be fed up with lockdowns that target their individual businesses or activities, while hundreds of workers are still being infected at Amazon facilities across Ontario, and when one major Alberta energy company has been identified as the source of a dangerous P.1 outbreak across the province. After learning a great deal about the nature of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, provinces are still pursuing third lockdowns as if they know nothing. It’s no surprise that, eventually, people will push back on the government flooding their lawns.
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