Summer has come upon us after a long and, for many, a frightening and lonely spring. But there have been some positives to that lockdown season here; people have, on the whole, felt safe—instructions have been clear; politicians have listened to expert medical advice and followed it.
Communities pulled together to help their residents. Local organizations kept in touch with the elderly and stores stepped up or initiated delivery services. Telephone services for young people who need help in this difficult time, have risen to the challenge of responding to a large increase in calls. National Arts organizations have made video performances of both music and drama available for free, as well as discussions between artists, organizers and other participants, while local associations have encouraged their members to continue to create by setting up virtual art galleries and blogs where writers can share their current work or reflections.
Most of us have become familiar with platforms like Zoom, which have enabled us to attend family get-togethers, meetings with colleagues, and in my case, continue to record interviews for our radio series Word on the Hills. Not everyone has been able to work from home, but education, businesses, and other services have managed, with much effort and many challenges, to move online.
We’ve gratefully acknowledged the courage and dedication of essential frontline workers whether in health care, maintaining infrastructure or necessary services such as security, stocking shelves in the grocery store, or cleaning and disinfecting objects and spaces the public is obliged to use, but I hope that a fuller recognition and a deeper understanding of their contributions to our societal well-being will be part of our future.
Stage 2 of the recovery plan for the economy, instituted last week in areas of my province where infection rates are acceptably low or now non-existent, has brought some relief and excitement, but also more uncertainty and stress. Rules are less clear. While maintaining social distance is still regarded as key to preventing a new outbreak of the virus, meetings of up to 10 people are now allowed and family and friends may visit each other.
In public places like restaurants, service is only possible on the patio and regulations for the safety of both workers and customers have to be observed. Many businesses have, as essential stores did months ago, set up plexiglass barriers between dining tables, or between vendor and customer. Everyone who enters a store is advised to wear a mask, as is anyone who works there. As more people go back to work, Public Transit is requiring passengers to wear masks. Preparations for opening up can be elaborate and expensive. Not all companies are ready to go.
When restrictions were first loosened for Stage 1 several weeks ago, I was thrilled to be able to return to our local provincial park with my dog and delighted to find that people were conscious of social distancing regulations and willing to observe them. It was our first adventure— actually walking in a public place beyond my garden and neighbouring streets. Both these locales had left me more appreciative of my neighbours and neighbourhood, but being able to go further was real freedom. I discovered that our favourite trails were less popular than the shore; we seldom met anyone but another dog walker or occasional cyclist, from whom we kept our distance while exchanging cheerful greetings.
So last week when we entered Stage 2 of our recovery plan I asked my hairdresser, who runs her business on her own, if she was ready to open up. She told me about all the precautions she’s taken and gave me an appointment. Last Friday, feeling I must confess a little nervous, I presented myself at the proper moment and was greeted by Val and her dog, Cody. Sanitizer in hand, Val smiled from behind two protective masks, while Cody blinked at me from his basket. We spent a relaxing time together, and I left with my hair tidied, trimmed and pinned up, determined to continue growing it until it can be easily styled even by me!
But our uncertainties and worries remain. How safe are we as governments loosen restrictions? Will people follow advice once it is no longer a strict rule? Will we find ways to support vulnerable members of our society needing homes, food and jobs? Will money and profits once again become more important than people and healthy communities? Will we remember and act on the lessons of the pandemic with regard to health, travel, education, modes of living, politics, justice and climate change— systems and issues that affect the whole world as well as each individual life?