By Pauline Kerr
There is an ancient Chinese curse: May you always live in interesting times. That certainly describes life with COVID-19.
We seem to have lost the “We are all in this together” mentality we had when the pandemic was in its early stages. Now everyone has become an expert.
What the general public knows about COVID-19 has changed very little since the pandemic broke out. It spreads like wildfire, is deadly, and the best way to avoid it is to stay away from people.
Yes, we could bring the spread of the virus to a halt with strict lockdowns – which some “experts” (the coffeeshop variety, not the ones with actual credentials) are calling for. But at what cost? The economy would be obliterated. Mental health problems including suicides would rise precipitously.
Other coffeeshop experts have a more casual approach – as long as no one tells the COVID police about the party, all is well. And masks are OK worn under the nose, or hanging from one ear.
Both groups respond to every new government pronouncement with, “Well, they told us something else a couple of weeks ago.” The unspoken message is they will do whatever they want.
Now we are facing a COVID Christmas. Parades and special events have been cancelled or changed drastically to meet public health requirements. But stores are open. A lot of people are accusing the government of cancelling Christmas – except for the spending money part.
They might want to think before they criticize. While COVID-19 is very much a health issue, it is also an economic issue.
Our premier, municipal leaders and health officials are treading a very narrow path. On one side is the need to protect people’s health. That is accomplished through discouraging contact – cancelling events, forbidding gatherings of more than a handful of people, and requiring masks and handwashing.
Protecting our economy is important, too. Make no mistake, it is in jeopardy. Some businesses have closed their doors permanently, and more will follow.
The last major pandemic was the Spanish flu that hit hard during the final days of the First World War. The same thing happened then that is happening now. People weary of restrictions refused to follow rules imposed by the government.
The government of the day backed off and let the illness rage unchecked. Not only was the death toll much more devastating than it should have been, but the economy took a major hit. It is no coincidence that a decade later, in 1929, the stock market crashed, throwing our economy into a downward economic spiral that continued until the Second World War.
Protecting our health and economy are not just a government responsibility, but up to all of us.
To ensure we have the economic infrastructure we need to rebuild after COVID-19, we need to support our local businesses every way we can. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities, the source of much of the growth and innovation in this province, not to mention new jobs.
What they do not have are the resources to weather this storm without plenty of support from government aid packages and customers who shop local.
The latter is a big win for everyone. Local retailers are the people we go to when our service club is selling tickets or raising funds for a local cause. They coach minor hockey and soccer, volunteer with the local fire department, hire local teenagers to help out after school, teach Sunday school, and contribute to the community in ways too many to list.
The coffeeshop experts need to stop looking at “shop local” campaigns as something to grumble about. If we order takeout a bit more, buy gift certificates, and check our local shops before we order from large international retailers, our vibrant downtown will survive COVID-19.
We can also help businesses keep their doors open by preventing the COVID cases that could trigger another lockdown – wear masks (over the nose and mouth), wash hands frequently, and avoid close contact with people outside the family.
We all can win.