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Public pressure likely to accelerate reopening process

The province has slightly accelerated the first stage of its latest reopening plan, allowing for the resumption of a few activities in a limited way as of Friday. There may be some additional easing after a 21-day period arbitrarily set by Queen’s Park.

We can expect that timeline to be moved up, too, as Ontarians chafe under restrictions that appear out of line with what’s happening in other jurisdictions.

The Ford government says it’s acting under an abundance of caution, looking to avoid a surge in COVID-19 cases if the impositions on the public were lifted more quickly. While we certainly want to avoid having people fall ill and any overstressing of the health care system, reopenings elsewhere – in some case, full reopenings – haven’t led to massive new waves of cases.

The go-slow roadmap set out by the province allows for some outdoor activities such as patio dining and the resumption of some indoor activities such as shopping, albeit in a limited manner – just 15 per cent capacity for non-essential retail, for instance. For many people, it seems like too little, too late as the summer season is now here in earnest.

Ontarians are clearly suffering from pandemic fatigue – we’re ready to move ahead with our lives, while the province has its foot on the brake.

That has implications both for the legitimacy of governance and for public acceptance of vaccine campaigns.

To be sure, people should be eager to be vaccinated, if only to put the pandemic behind us as quickly as possible. But for the hesitant, tangible rewards in the form of a quick resumption of something resembling normal life would be the best incentive. A slow approach whereby another summer may be lost could have the opposite effect.

At the heart of the issue now is the summer season. We need little coaxing to stay inside and apart from others in the midst of winter’s chill, but now we’re eager to be back out again. We’re less inclined to let the pandemic stand in the way, and the same applies to the pandemic precautions espoused by public officials.

Then there’s the raw calculus of risks, numbers of deaths, business failures and economic woes, with each of us coming up with a different assessment … and acting accordingly, no matter what “they” are saying. We’re more inclined to tune out the advice, and to chafe at the restrictions.

There’s no facet of our lives that hasn’t been touched by the coronavirus pandemic. For the luckiest among us, attempts to curb the spread of the virus have been simply an inconvenience. For those less lucky, there’s been a big financial hit, particularly if they’ve lost their livelihoods. The unluckiest have lost loved ones or even their own lives. It’s such scenarios that we have to keep in mind as we assess the latest in a long string of government restrictions.

Ford has been taking heat for his position. The decision to move up the first step in the reopening by a few days can be attributed to vaccination levels, but also reflects the government’s acknowledgement of public opinion. Both factors are likely to be a play in future accelerations of the province’s overly guarded timelines.

On that front, we can look to the U.S. for guidance and caution. The poster child for how not to deal with a pandemic early on, the country accelerated vaccine rollout and has reaped the rewards. While some states opened and reopened too early over the past year, recent numbers show plenty of examples where the return to regular practices have not met with new surges in cases of COVID-19, nor overburdened health-care systems.

Ontarians seeing those results are much less inclined to play along with Ford’s current strategy.

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