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OPINION: Want to socialize? Do it in public.

Let's tighten the right rules in the battle against COVID-19
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Charles Cirtwill, president-CEO, Northern Policy Institute

Are you desperate this holiday season to see Grandma? Then go meet her at a local restaurant. Have you not seen your brother and his kids for months? Then meet them at the food court or go to a local park. Are you and mom missing out on that quality bonding time? Then take a page from an '80s sitcom and meet your mom at the local spa or beauty salon. Travel separately or at least “separated” ("Driving Miss Daisy" style), wear masks, follow the rules, and you will be safe.

What crazy advice is this, you ask, with the second wave of COVID-19 rampant among us? I admit, I am not an infectious disease specialist, but I do analyze data and evidence for a living. We are experiencing a second wave of COVID-19 largely due to one thing: Thanksgiving. Collectively, we misbehaved terribly on the Thanksgiving holiday. Maybe some of us acted prudently, but clearly many of us did not. We burst our bubbles, passed around the turkey, and shared hugs with our family and friends. We created an ideal breeding ground for the virus. And breed it did.

But it did not breed in the businesses we are about to lock down. Few of the outbreaks we are now seeing are linked to businesses. Yes, there have been a few. Like the nail salon in Toronto a few months ago. Those exceptions prove the rules work. It is safe to go get your hair cut. Every second chair is shrink-wrapped, after all. It is safe to pick up food from the local restaurant for dinner or to even have dinner at one of the 25 per cent of tables still available. It is safe to go buy toys at the local shop, or grab some groceries at the local supermarket or even, God forbid, go buy yourself a book to read while you are staying home and staying safe at night. 

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I am furious when I read pundits pontificating about how the premier of Ontario doesn’t want us to have dinner at mom’s house, but he is OK with us having a few beers at the local pub. Of course he is, you dolts. Government can’t (not just won’t, but can’t) send the cops into your basement to see how close you are sitting to your sister-in-law. They can, and have, sent inspectors in to make sure you and she are wearing masks and appropriately distanced when you are having a coffee at Tim’s.

That’s the point. Government can’t make our backyards and basements safe. Only we can do that. Clearly, some among us just have not gotten that message. Or, perhaps, we have all gotten just a little lax. In that case, verbally slapping us around on a regular basis for doing dumb things and putting ourselves and our families at risk is what the premier and the prime minister should be doing. Someone needs to remind us not to let down our guard. Recall, Manitoba was one of the safest provinces in the country a few short months ago.

Government and businesses have made public spaces safer. Collecting and connecting in those regulated, monitored, and protected spaces makes perfect sense. Should government tighten the rules and limit the number of shoppers in the local Wal-Mart or Canadian Tire? Absolutely. Bring back the security guards with the little metal counters, I say. But shutting the local barber shop again, and likely put them out of business for good, makes absolutely no sense. Especially since we know they are not the problem.

The problem is us. The at home and social us, not the work us. Pickleball, for example, is the current culprit here in Thunder Bay. A sport which is promoted as being more intimate than tennis because you have to stand closer to other competitors. Who, exactly, thought that was a good idea? Let’s get closer together, everyone!

Government can place tighter restrictions on this type of group activity. We have done so with school sports and youth sports leagues; we should have done so for adult recreational sports as well. Tighten the rules, yes, but let’s tighten the right rules.

Charles Cirtwill is president and CEO of Northern Policy Institute, an independent social and economic think tank based in Northern Ontario with offices in Thunder Bay and Sudbury.




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