Bumps to hugs

As Covid numbers continue to improve, Canadians look forward to moving from elbow bumps to hugs.

By Ian Pattison

Can you feel it? After a long, hard year hiding from COVID-19, there is a sense of hope in the air. Infections are down, vaccinations are up and gleeful people are posting their own good news on social media with selfies getting their second shots.

It does feel good, doesn’t it?

Relaxed restrictions and renewed activities feel like a reward for all those long, frustrating and sometimes lonely days and nights spent in various stages of isolation while authorities tried to stay a step ahead of a pandemic whose origins remain a mystery.

Keeping occupied became our life’s challenge. Netflix flourished and baking was embraced. People who had never had pets before learned the absolute joy of a dog or cat in the house. As winter receded people dug up parts of their back yards and ordered soil to take up gardening. People have been walking everywhere and the best exercise there is shows no signs of being abandoned. Lately, there is an extra spring in the step of those out on sidewalks and trails.

The relief in our communities is palpable. We’re winning and we have every reason to feel proud of having endured nearly a year-and-a-half of forced behaviour that goes against everything we know and feel as social beings.

Governments will be held to account for how they responded to the pandemic and Ontario in particular will be found wanting. But for now we will simply relish the advent of increasing freedom with summer starting Sunday.

Socializing will be awkward at first as restrictions are eased. Will we still touch elbows with friends we haven’t seen in so long or will emotion bring the hugs that we all want so much to give and receive? Most of us have shown the utmost responsibility and our greetings will be a matter of choice and conscience and case numbers. But it sure will feel good to be back in the company of people we’ve dearly missed. Decisions on when or if to abandon masks in public will come later.

Now we’re in Step 1 of re-opening Ontario. This allows outdoor gatherings up to 10 people and outdoor dining up to four people per table. Visiting our favourite restaurants will be a special treat in itself.

Now that the province has passed the target of 70 per cent of adults vaccinated with one dose and 20 per cent of adults with two doses, we can move to Step 2 on July 2 -- assuming continued positive trends in public health indicators. As of Saturday, 76 per cent of Ontario adults have already had at least one shot and 23.6 per cent have had two, and will be considered fully vaccinated once those second doses have had two weeks to get antibodies ready for battle.

The seven-day provincial average is down to 411 cases per day or 20 weekly per 100,000. Labs are reporting 26,643 completed tests and a 1.4 per cent positivity rate.

The Thunder Bay area rate is even lower, at 17.3 per cent weekly incidence with a positivity rate of just 1.1 per cent. Both numbers are roughly half of what they were a week ago. Saturday saw the case count down to 23 with a single new one.

Nationally, Canada leads all large developed countries in first-dose vaccine coverage. With deliveries ramping up almost daily and second doses in high demand it will not be long before Canada approaches the goal of 75-per-cent fully vaccinated.

Thunder Bay District medical health officer Dr. Janet DeMille is particularly pleased that demand for vaccinations is rising in every age category. A big jump has recently come among those aged 18 to 29, a group one might have assumed was either hesitant or nonchalant about getting vaccinated at all.

Vaccine hesitancy remains a problem. Roughly 15 per cent of people have said they will not get a shot or are unsure. But that number has dropped as research and testing confirmed the safety of the two most common vaccines. Close to 90 per cent Canadians now want a shot, according to a new poll from Angus Reid.

The news is not all good, though; it never is.

On Thursday, ongoing health safety concerns about the Astra-Zeneca vaccine prompted the National Advisory Committee on Immunization to recommend those who got Astra-Zeneca first should consider Pfizer or Moderna for their second shot.

The Delta variant of Covid, so far the most infectious, is making inroads everywhere. It is rapidly becoming the dominant strain in Ontario -- there are currently no cases in Thunder Bay -- but vaccines provide more protection than originally thought. They may not prevent acquiring Delta but in most people they will certainly minimize symptoms and in most cases prevent the need for hospitalization. 

Covid and its variants have shone a brighter light on global inequality. A sense of dread is growing in some of the very poorest countries in the world as virus cases surge and more contagious variants take hold amid a crippling shortage of vaccine, the Associated Press reports.

Canada has just joined other major countries to announce donations of millions of vaccine doses to countries in dire straits. Canada has secured enough vaccines to protect a population almost four times its size and has been accused by some of hoarding. Others would call it prudent planning.

Canada has always been generous and as our vaccination rates grow, so must deliveries of our excess supply to the poorest countries in the worst shape. That too will do our hearts good.

* * *

In last week’s column I wondered if Thunder Bay city councillor Peng You had come up with the idea of a plebiscite on council’s size on his own, or been fed it by Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives who have chosen him as their candidate in Thunder Bay-Superior North ahead of the 2022 election. Former mayoral candidate Shane Judge, who was also mentioned in the column, has provided the answer.

In a letter to this newspaper Thursday, Judge reports that You first broached the subject last December, well before his nomination. Accuracy appreciated, always.

As for that election, it is just 50 weeks away. The PCs’ You will try to wrest the riding from Liberal perennial favourite Michael Gravelle with Anna Betty Achneepineskum contesting for the NDP. (A former deputy grand chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Achneepineskum is also a candidate in the current NAN elections.) Any predictions on the provincial vote, dear readers?

Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.