Editorial: I want the old normal
Let’s not delay a return to business as usual.
By Patrick Flannery
By the time you read this, my whole household will have received our first shots of a COVID vaccine. It’s a tremendous relief and we’re all very much looking forward to a more normal summer of hanging out with family and friends in the back yard and at the cottage.
I hope my optimism isn’t misplaced. Here in Ontario, my daughter’s high school has already announced a reduced daily schedule of only two classes per day when school re-opens in September. September! Just about everyone in the province ought to be vaccinated by then, and many of us will have had our second shots. Continuing to restrict school activities at that point seems to me to be an excess of caution.
But excessive caution appears to be going around. The closure of outdoor activities such as golf, tennis and parks doesn’t make any sense from the perspective of preventing people from actually catching the virus. It is very difficult to catch outdoors. I get that this is part of a general effort to keep people from moving around but it sure looks like overreach, especially when you consider how badly people need some opportunity to do something outside the house. Then there’s the continuing recommendations for businesses to wipe all their surfaces down all the time. We’ve known for a while now that this is not how the virus spreads. This goes for the federal guidelines, too, which continue to recommend no alteration in social distancing, gathering and mask-wearing for people who have been vaccinated. Yes, vaccinated people still have some small chance of getting and spreading the disease, but eliminating all instances of infection was never the goal – it’s likely COVID-19 or its variants will become a permanent seasonal epidemic similar to influenza. The goal was to prevent uncontrolled spread leading to so many infections at once that health care systems become overwhelmed. With a critical mass of the population vaccinated, that risk largely goes away.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of the efforts we’ve made in Canada to save as many lives as possible and grateful to the health experts who have worked so hard to tell us how to stay safe and delivered the miraculous vaccines. I still urge everyone to follow the guidelines and rules our public health authorities put forward. They certainly know more about this stuff than I do. But I would hope there is no “mission creep” in the health community that leads to people not being able to experience the relief and return to normal we have earned over the last year.
For one thing, the economy needs it. The last Ontario Construction Secretariat bulletin showed a five percent decline in ICI building permit values in Q1 2021 versus Q1 2020, led by a 17 percent reduction in commercial permits. I’ve spoken here before about the potential for a long-term depression in commercial real estate coming out of weak demand for office space. I hope I’m wrong. The federal budget disappointed somewhat in not promising a big infrastructure package targeted at the ICI sector – most of the proposed spending is aimed at residential homeowners. I’m not sure much stimulus is needed and it may even be inflationary if taken too far. All we really need in this country is to be allowed to reap the crop we’ve sown with our discipline and good behaviour and return to normal as soon as possible.