Don Martin: Go-slow Trudeau must win the battle over impatience to reopen
OTTAWA -- It took less than 24 hours for Ottawa public health officials to realize they’d gone too far.
A senior officer took to the airwaves this week to denounce social-distancing “loopholes,” one being that residents should stop using their driveway to chat with neighbours despite sitting a legislated safe distance away.
A day later, the city’s mayor declared it was fine with him if residents wanted to quaff a beer with a socially-spaced neighbour or two.
This backtrack signalled welcome awareness that there’s a limit to what the public will tolerate as the first month of government-decreed confinement takes its mental toll and the weather, notwithstanding this week’s snow in the capital, improves.
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Social distancing rules, absolutely. Heavy-handed social isolation orders to stay indoors, not so much.
If poorly handled, there are three stages in this pandemic’s progression as we limp toward the return to a strange new normal: Compliance. Impatience. Resistance.
We’re still a country solidly in compliance territory – and there are welcome signs physical distancing is working as the growth of infections slow.
But, as the prime minister noted this week in a rare burst of emotional candour, public impatience is growing toward resistance.
And that, he warned, cannot be allowed to throttle back public health safety measures.
Again and again Justin Trudeau has been asked by reporters when self-isolations or quarantines will be eased and businesses kickstarted.
Again and again he has to dodge because he simply doesn’t know beyond the “coming time” when something will ease somehow in some provinces.
And even when coronavirus case numbers start to decline, Trudeau cautions, the all-clear cannot be given without mass vaccinations, widespread testing capacity and contact-tracing procedures to combat a COVID-19 resurgence.
It’s an important response and resolve in confronting an unknown future reality in work and play.
But Trudeau clearly senses he’s about to face pushback from the impatient and the resistance on multiple fronts.
It’s doubtful severely-stressed business leaders will easily accept Trudeau’s gloomy far, far away forecast before they can flip around the economy’s “closed” sign.
And the U.S. president isn’t helping Trudeau amid talk of allowing state economies to restart and the border to reopen despite American infection and death rates which are still rising.
Well, too bad, I guess. This is not the time for overconfidence to trump caution.
The prime minister must continue hammering home the need for stay-at-home resolve until the virus is vanquished or we’ll be doomed to repeat our forgotten history.
But, but, BUT, a note of caution here. Governments big and small must also address the fact there’s a thin line between vigilant and vigilante in confronting this pandemic. And the line is getting blurry.
Communication, education and aggressive testing are the keys to effective vigilance.
But hostile street or park confrontations, neighbourhood snitch lines, talk of tracking people through their phone apps and stories of aggressive and excessive bylaw ticketing don’t enhance public buy-in of physical distancing.
It’s unfortunately becoming obvious we will be lucky if social distancing rules ease by Canada Day or even Labour Day.
And if there’s a COVID-19 relapse, we should brace for the reality that hugs and handshakes are a complete write-off from the entire 2020 social calendar.
But amid hopeful signs of an infection dip, a hospital surge which might not happen and testing technology innovating with unexpected speed, perhaps freedom of assembly and movement is not as agonizingly far off.
If that happens, provided it ever warms up here, I’ll raise a socially-distanced drink to better days coming sooner instead of later. From my driveway.