OPINION: No guilting and shaming allowed as patios and stores reopen in Ontario

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Published June 10, 2021 at 3:19 pm

When the clock strikes midnight (well, one minute after midnight) on June 11, restaurants will be permitted to reopen their patios and non-essential retailers with street-facing entrances will be allowed to welcome customers back in their stores.

And you know as well as I do that a certain type of person is pre-raging and getting ready to take creep shots of people on patios and ask, “OH BUT IS THIS REALLY ESSENTIAL DURING A GLOBAL PANDEMIC DRIVEN BY NEW VARIANTS? IS THAT BEER WORTH A LIFE? HOW ABOUT THAT PURSE?”

First of all, this long-awaited reopening is excellent news. Smaller businesses such as restaurants, specific retailers, gyms and personal care facilities–especially in hotspots such as Brampton, Mississauga, Hamilton and Toronto–have been suffering under restrictive public health measures since October 2020 and some facilities–such as salons and gyms–won’t be permitted to reopen until later this summer.

Ontario’s three-step reopening plan is cautious in the extreme, laying out rigid rules for the stores (maximum 15 per cent capacity) and restaurants (only four people to a patio table) that are permitted to open up just a crack tomorrow morning.

That said, the Province’s cautious approach probably won’t appease the small but significant minority of people who are already getting ready to pen overwrought Twitter screeds accompanied by photos of people on patios and in stores. Even though the tide seems to have turned in favour of opening up the province, some lockdown addicts are surely anxious to declare shoppers and diners “Covidiots” who care more about a “drink on a patio” than they do about saving a precious human life.

This sentiment, noble though it may sound, is offensively dramatic in its attempt to conflate a desire for connection and normality with a sociopathic disregard for the suffering of others. People are allowed to miss socializing with their friends on patios and shopping for items that fulfil them. It isn’t evil to want your life back.

People have been failed by all levels of government long enough and they deserve to celebrate the arrival of summer (and a robust supply of vaccines) with some sangria and a scented candle from Indigo.

After 15 months of this crisis, I must beg all of you phone camera warriors to lower your devices and refrain from indulging in rage-baiting, self-righteous social media posts decrying the selfishness of the evil Canadian consumer who dares wait in line to purchase a throw blanket or sunglasses.

While people might be more anxious for freedom than they were during subsequent reopenings–probably thanks to vaccines and gorgeous weather–there are some who have come to enjoy guilting and shaming those who fall short of perfect adherence to public health restrictions.

When the province briefly reopened patios and non-essential retail stores in early 2021, Twitter was on fire with shots of lineups outside of stores. The pictures were all accompanied by aghast expressions of moral outrage, with self-righteous posters (most of whom were careful to remind everyone that they hadn’t so much as left their bedrooms since March 2020 and were even masking in the shower) decrying the horrid, unspeakable selfishness of their fellow human.

Do you remember the outrage over a Homesense line?

I do, but yet I can’t seem to recall hearing about a vast outbreak happening because some people wanted vases.

Over the course of this crisis, we’ve also witnessed extensive hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing over gatherings in parks and on beaches–outdoor spaces that are pretty low-risk as far as COVID transmission goes.

It’s curious that some people continue to shame people in parks and in stores despite the data out of hard-hit regions such as Peel being quite clear: Most spread happened (and is happening) inside high-risk workplaces such as warehouses and manufacturing facilities and in homes with multiple residents.

COVID has allowed people, already emboldened by the intoxicating mix of anonymity and community that the internet provides, the opportunity to shame others with abandon. It has allowed the righteous to point to the wicked and say, “look! Look at this selfish, decadent, gluttonous consumer putting their primitive needs above the good of our community! Look upon this blurry iPhone photo of them waiting in line for a decorative pillow. How would they ever have survived a world war?”

This pandemic has been (and continues to be) awful. It is awful for those who have gotten sick, who have lost loved ones and who have lost precious time–because those who don’t have time don’t have much–with the loved ones who won’t be here forever. Connection is integral to happiness. It might even be integral to survival.

If someone can reconnect with a loved one this weekend by meeting on a patio or browsing the shelves at a store, that’s a beautiful thing. Having “broken the rules” to spend time with a dying parent during this horrific garbage fire of a year, I have a lot to say about the value and preciousness of time (but that’s a piece for another day).

Now that vaccines are here and people are lining up in droves for their first and second shots, it’s time to put our phones away and respect the fact that people are, slowly but surely, getting their lives back.

We’ve all suffered enough. Yes, the Delta variant is still out there. Yes, not many people are fully vaccinated just yet. But we’re making progress and brighter days are finally here.

Let people drink and shop in peace.

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