By Pauline Kerr
Another spring, another lockdown. Dog-walking has once again become a several-times-a-day activity, since most forms of physical exercise not involving dogs have been forbidden.
It seems the powers-that-be recognize dogs need to play outside for their physical and psychological health.
Where the authorities fall flat is with humans. We need to play outside, too, preferably with others of our species, although dogs are glad to step in and accompany us on our masked, solitary walks around town.
The premier’s office relented a bit to permit little kids to spend time in playgrounds, as long as they are masked, hand-sanitized and distanced to the point fun is unlikely. Baseball is forbidden, along with road hockey and other sports. Even golf, the ultimate in extremely distanced sports, is prohibited.
Most of us fail to understand why it is better to remove golfers from their beloved and distanced fairways, and have the Saturday morning foursome grumble over beer in someone’s garage.
Unlike the first lockdown, there is little sense this time around that “we are all in this together” and are sacrificing certain freedoms for the safety of our friends and neighbours. We are being punished because numbers started climbing at a dangerous rate and people were not complying with rules.
Most of us have a mental image of who is at fault – in some cases irresponsible 20-somethings at cottage parties, in other cases, anti-maskers standing shoulder-to-shoulder at rallies. In a category all their own are the fools who fail to understand “stay at home” includes staying out of the mall.
While these people certainly bear responsibility for rising numbers, there is an increasing awareness that COVID-19 is also being spread by people who are unable to isolate even when they have symptoms. They are about as far from irresponsible as one can get – hard-working individuals who are on the job even when they feel unwell, because they have rent to pay and families to feed. Many of the jobs considered essential pay minimum wage with no benefits. A day off work because of illness means a day without pay.
The province has been slow to respond to the reality that some workplaces are more efficient COVID-19 petri dishes than college dorms and cruise ships. The point has passed when implementing workplace vaccination programs as well as a provincewide paid sick leave program might have slowed the virus effectively. Despite the recent shift in vaccination strategy to hot spots and groups at risk, we fear it will be too little, too late. The only workable strategy now is probably getting vaccine into as many arms as possible.
In the meantime, the province might be advised to stop punishing golfers and those out for Sunday drives.
The carrot-and-stick approach to COVID-19 management is not working. Starting with “nice” measures that play to everyone’s better nature, and following up a couple of days later with heavy-handed action because the numbers failed to drop immediately, strikes the wrong note.
Fortunately, the province paid attention when parents cried foul about the playground closures and police departments across the province served notice they would not be making random traffic stops.
No one wanted the uproar that would have resulted from accusations of racial profiling and abuse of power. The police response probably saved the Ford government from a huge black eye and a deluge of expensive court cases. Time will tell what impact backing off on the playground issue will have. Little kids may not vote but their parents do.
To give credit where it is due, our provincial government has been sailing in uncharted waters for over a year, and has demonstrated a commendable flexibility and willingness to listen; for that we are grateful. Frustration is setting in on the part of both government and the rest of us, just as the finish line is in sight.
What we need from our government right now is not harsh, unenforceable rules but leadership. Where strict measures are warranted, by all means impose them, but in a measured, not punitive way.