Canadians have been very supportive of the new normal, but enough is enough

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The time has come to move as a herd.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on June 1, 2020.

OTTAWA—Surgical sterility is great for an operating room. But it does not work in the real world.

The notion that after almost three months in lockdown people are expected to either stay home or go to places where they are not allowed to sit down for fear of transmitting COVID is unworkable.

In Calgary, people gather in bars and restaurants in a convivial atmosphere. In Ottawa, you cannot even sit down on picnic tables at the Dairy Queen for fear of an infection outbreak.

In the olden days, Hogtown had another nickname, Toronto the Good. It was based on laws with a distinctively Presbyterian flavour that restricted drinking, dancing, and all things purportedly sinful.

The new normal has unleashed a wave of righteous caterwauling the likes of which we have not witnessed since the seventies (of the last century).

The blowback on the Trinity-Bellwoods park exuberance, was a case in point.

Everyone from the premier to the mayor jumped on the finger-pointing bandwagon, instead of realistically assessing why there was only a postage-stamp park in an area of multiple, low-income high-rise dwellings.

Not everyone has a private backyard to COVID in. In Toronto, the possibility of having your own personal space is even more remote.

So, on a sunny Saturday in May, when the province had announced the loosening of rules to stage two, people came out in droves.

On the fish-eye lens shots that immediately circulated on social media, it looked as though thousands were elbow to elbow.

But when the television cameras arrived, it was clear that people were trying their best to ensure social distancing.

But the armchair critics jumped in to attack millennials, claiming their irresponsibility was putting lives at risk.

At one point, a COVID-commentating doctor was almost in tears on television because he could not understand why people would be undermining the contribution of health-care workers in this thoughtless romp in the park.

Across the pond, critics are vicious in their attack British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s top aid for defying lockdown rules and driving to his mother’s home to drop off his four-year-old with grandma. He claims he and his wife were sick, and therefore the trip was about necessary childcare while they convalesced.

Without drilling down into the details of his explanation, the revelation rocked the country. People are stuck at home and obviously hurting when the rules that apply to them do not apply to others.

But the COVID epidemic has also unleashed the vitriol of unhappy people who normally keep their acidic worldview to themselves.

In today’s world, the COVID police are everywhere, ready to pounce on someone who veers too close on a walking path or accidentally steps in the wrong spot in a grocery store.

The old nosy parker, who was into everybody’s else’s business, is now doing it with impunity, as though their observations on everyone else are in the public interest.

In the condo in which I live, some dwellers have taken to counting the empty visitor parking spots every weekend to make sure that no interlopers are sneaking into the premises.

Last weekend, I hosted two family members for a dinner. It was within the rule of five, and we had covided in their backyard (with self-distancing) several times over the past few months.

To enter the apartment without neighbourly reporting, we made sure family entered through the underground parking, so as not to be outed by anyone looking out their window into visitors’ parking.

I have a friend who is struggling alone to support her husband, suffering with brain cancer. We have a weekly COVID meeting in the passageway between our apartments.

Last Friday, she broke down in tears, describing the loneliness of watching her partner slowly slip away, without the support that would normally attend a dying family member.

Horror of horrors, I hugged her. She needed a human connection and two meters of space just did not cut it.

Perfection may occur in hospital settings, but I think the public’s attention would be far better focused on eliminating risk in long-term care facilities.

With the high ratio of deaths in vulnerable populations, it is shameful that we need the military to expose germ-infested, understaffed conditions in health facilities.

But while we focus on not touching each other, the death rate numbers are largely driven by long-term care neglect.

Canadians have been very supportive of the new normal. But enough is enough. The time has come to move as a herd.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.