On a good sunny day in summer, when the weather bureau issued no warning alert on extreme heat and high humidity, I would drive and park my car in our neighborhood’s Rathwood Park along the Rathburn road. Then I would spend a good hour walking repetitively around the whole circular length of the park, sometimes jogging, or alternate both activities intermittently until my body begged me to pause to re-charge for energy. Sometimes I would take a glimpse at my smartphone and check on the number of steps it has registered or paying attention to sweat soaking my shirt, either way, I would pay heed to whichever one decisively signals me to stop and go home. My aging body could no longer take the push of physical challenge as I humbly and admittedly resigned to my predicament. That was in normal days and times.
The New Normal
The new normal, or the aberrated normal, had all the parks in the Mississauga area closed, parking lots padlocked or blockaded. Closure signages are prominently displayed in all entrances of public parks. Sightings of police officers enforcing the closure become commonplace. Anyone who violates the bylaw is slapped with a hefty fine. Under this circumstance, I could still do my walking and jogging in any neighborhood streets, away from the forbidden areas, if weather permits but I had to practice physical distancing and wear face-covering whenever a threat from other people who might have crossed my path is encountered. Such was the picture of a perfectly law-abiding citizen adhering to public health advice. And it isn’t really that hard to comply for the sake of health and safety, especially if it concerns your own and that of your loved ones. But in every normal, whether it is past or recent, there is always an exception. Hardheaded violators who stubbornly refused to comply and justified their stupidity with indignant behavior are always part of the equation of law and order, of health and safety, and of death and life.
Yes, we currently live in an era of aberration we popularly called “new normal.” Our heightened concern for our own safety and well-being as we constantly and consciously battle against the deadly encroachment of coronavirus day after day, we forgot about our environment and how to make it sustainably rubbish free. Discarded disposable masks, sheared plastic gloves, and empty bottles of hand sanitizers added to the collective litters in our surroundings.
Canada has not resorted to a lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus. Canadians, or most of them, listen to health official’s plea to observe voluntary home quarantine and leave home only on essential trips to grocery stores. Lockdown means differently depending on which country adopts it. It could be as drastic and extreme as limiting the movement of people from one community to another. But Canadians can still exercise their freedom of mobility wherever and whenever they wanted to. Ironically, where else can you go when employment places, parks, swimming pools, libraries, amusement places, movie houses, bars and restaurants, casinos, liquor, and beer stores and many other public places are closed and in some cases services have been reduced to essential needs only as in the case of grocery stores. Sure, hospitals and health clinics are wide open but those places are the last ones you want to be in. You can order food online from any of your favorite eateries and have them picked up and delivered to you. Or you can go in the store, one person at a time, endure the long lineup of people standing in designated areas to avoid crowding, and place your order. But during phase 1 economic closure imposed by the government, restaurants are strictly not allowed for dine-in.
Except for hospitals and walk-in clinics, drug stores, pharmacies, grocery stores, retail stores, convenience stores, banks, government offices, individual outdoor recreational sports, veterinary services, animal services, household services, media industries, to name a few, are considered essential and continue to conduct business or render services in a controlled manner. That means that when you seek to use their businesses or services, you have to comply with proper social distancing and wear facial covering – two-meter apart with your face properly covered with either a custom made mask or the ubiquitous blue non-surgical one.
Economic phase 2 opening in Ontario includes easing off of some restrictions. Restaurants and bars that can operate with adjoining outdoor spaces or patio can entertain dine-in with spaced out tables and chairs. Customers are encouraged to wear masks when they enter the store to order and then take them out to the patio area. Limited in space with no table-waiting personnel to assist you but this development is a positive sign of what’s to come, sooner or later. For those restaurants and bars that do not have patio spaces to use, they continue to conduct business through online ordering and curbside pickup. The operation may be a scaled-down one but revenues continue to flow in and a skeleton staffing force keeps their jobs and gets paid.
Family in Quarantine
Closure of school of all levels, Day Care Centers, and parents relegated to work from home or furloughed indefinitely pose an unprecedented family dynamics that have both positive and negative effects. As the virus contamination spike, so do the use of Netflix, wifi, and online purchases. Both kids and adults binged on watching online entertainment provided popularly by Netflix and other providers in the entertainment industry while under home quarantine. Netflix adds 16 million subscribers worldwide during the pandemic. Netflix has been given a status as most sought after services in times of isolation. Isolation ironically converges and unites family members as they nestle to one another in a central living area of the home, often enjoying live conversations or watching family shows and movies together. Truly a picture of a family compelled to congregate and bond under a given circumstance, a perfect depiction of harmony that springs out of chaos and aberration.
While voluntarily quarantined at home, kids grew tired of mom’s and dad’s home cooking and began asking their parents for their credit cards so they can order food from unlimited pickup and delivery food vendors. This growing demand has seen the growth of another unprecedented economic trend on food pickup and delivery business fulfilled by major industry competitors like Uber Eats, Skip the Dishes, Doordash, etc. Parents have expressed the joy of being much closer to their kids than ever before. Report of families strengthening the bond is no doubt one of the positives, but domestic violence during home quarantine has escalated against women, children, and LGBTQ+ individuals. While the home is a sanctuary for most families during quarantine, it can also be a dangerous place for the abused and marginalized members of our society. And as the aberrated normal constitutes some family rectitude, the devil advocate tips the balance to lassitude with such abuse.
Unemployment and Government Aid
Employment decline in both public and private sectors has been unprecedented. The closure of non-essential services to slow the spread of COVID-19 has devastated the economy and forced businesses to shutter temporarily. Canada lost nearly 2 million jobs in April, a record high in the country’s history. The decline has recorded 15.7% since February, outpacing the previous financial crisis in the 1981 and 1982 recession. In addition to those who are now out of work, the number of people who are employed but worked less than half their usual hours because of the pandemic increased by 2.5 million from February to April. This trend has not spared our household as my wife was one of those whose contract was terminated.
The Government issued a stimulus aid to mitigate the economic impact on employees who have lost their jobs, either temporarily, indefinitely, or for good. In March, the government of Canada has responded decisively by announcing $82 billion in emergency aid and economic stimulus to assist Canadians struggling financially. The aid includes $27 billion in direct support for individuals and companies and $55 billion in tax deferrals for both households and businesses. Sometimes one would wonder where these monies are coming from as it appears so easy to get excited hearing billions of dollars coming your way, or so it seems. But not everyone in need can avail of this windfall as there are qualifying guidelines and procedures to follow before one can qualify to receive. Already there were reports of abuse committed by those who circumvented and outsmarted the system and received government aid in a fraudulent way. While it may seem that financial relief has kept most households afloat during the first two months, millions of Canadians will be maxing out those benefits soon and I wonder how a government can continue to provide aid and sustain family needs without the organic change in the income generation through stable employment and productivity. Canada’s budget deficit will mushroom to CDN$252.1 billion in 2020 and 2021, the outlook no one has anticipated – bleak and depressing.
Traveling in Style
The Ministry of Transportation in Ontario announced new measures requiring all public transport passengers to wear non-medical mask or face covering to cover their mouth and nose during travel. That means TTC buses, subway trains, and go trains will only allow riders who wear masks, no less, no compromise. I can see fashion emerging in the form of face coverings. Colorful and printed masks, mask colors, and patterns blending with women’s dresses, bags, shoes, etc. Creativity knows no bounds and it will manifest in many beautiful forms whenever an opportunity presents itself. The positive byproducts of the coronavirus may not diminish our fears from contracting it. But by being overly cautious and compliant to safety directives, donning a facemask and exerting creative effort to make oneself look fashionably pretty can mitigate our fears and can make us momentarily oblivious to our daily reality. And before we know it, fashion is born and the transportation trend develops.
And while face covering is for protection from the virus, it can also be a form of concealment or convenience for women who stop to care about make-up and lipstick. After all, grooming oneself is pompously intended for public display. And what good are make-up and lipstick if no one can see or appreciate them.
If you plan to ride public transport, obey the rules. Otherwise, use Uber or a taxi.
Raise the Spirits
Consumption of alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine, spirits has also spiked. Reportedly, alcohol beverage sales rose 21.5% in May and popular choice of drinks during home quarantine are beer, wine, and spirits, the latter surged the most as people have increasingly turned to creatively mix their own cocktails. While bars had to close in response to the coronavirus pandemic, controlled purchases of alcohol beverages from LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) and Beer Stores continued in earnest. People have either descended to LCBO or Beer Store and waited out their turn to go in or ordered alcohol beverage online from home to be delivered to their doors at some premium fees. Either way, alcohol as a metaphor for aqua vitae or “life water” and “spirit” drives the consequence of consumption that may alleviate stress and anxiety and raise our mental health upbeat during the pandemic, at least temporarily or while the spirit works.
Sports and Entertainment
The NBA suspended its regular season in March and other major league sports like NHL, MLS, NCAA, MLB, PGA Tour, English Premier League, UEFA Champions League, ATP Tour and Formula One have followed suit. I wonder if I would ever see a first-pitch thrown in any major league baseball fields in north America before winter arrives. With less likelihood of any major league events re-opening or resuming, a shift in a sports fan behavior takes a major direction. Imagine five months without a single live game telecast of your favorite basketball team. It was totally unheard-of and unimaginable but with the compelling risk to safety and life, I’ve learned to live without sports and any of the excitement associated with it. The pandemic as a force majeure to endangering lives plays an imminent influence that no greater excitement derives from sports can outweigh. I love basketball and am an avid fan of the Raptors. But while basketball remains deflated by the coronavirus, my desire to watch a live game can wait another season.
Exercising our Faith
The closure of houses of worship regardless of religion has prompted the ministries and faithful to innovate and adapt to technology. Livestreaming of masses and services is now synonymous with going to church, has become conveniently popular, and was embraced with religious conviction. The faithful link in with their desktops, laptops, or smartphones to participate in the online celebration of their faith. Facebook has been the leading choice of medium and for many, the interface offers enough flexibility to see, to be seen, and with decent interactivity in the form of comments. Wifi traffic and sporadic signal freezes may adversely affect the experience and might force the online participants to abandon the instance of observance. But for the most part, depending on which part of the world the broadcast is based, online experience seems wholesome. Some Catholic dioceses that have the resources resorted to live TV coverage. But by far, the social media channel provides economic convenience, accessibility, and ample message dissemination.
Flattening the Curve
This phrase has been popularized overnight in an effort to explain, describe, and defend the traction of the viral onslaught. Every country severely affected by the coronavirus has a team dedicated to rationalize, even justify or conceal, the inflection in virus testing, contamination, hospitalization, and mortality rate. In our household, my wife has coined a better phrase to flatten. She’s binging on anything that contains no carbohydrates and re-structured her diet to include vegetable and fruit salad, hard-boiled egg, and meat dish that is cooked with less or no adulterated cooking oil. Parallel with flattening the curve, my wife said, “I am in the pursuit of flattening my carb.”
Where do the footprints lead us to?
The coronavirus pandemic has left meandering indelible footprints in our paths. We may be able to imminently return to normalcy or to some level of normalcy sometime in the future but it will not happen without the imminent major change in our behavior, personality, and culture. Perhaps a vaccine will reinstate our trust in one another and slowly eradicate our fear of the virulent invasion of a virus. But until such time that an antidote is proven to deliver us from the harm of the coronavirus, the scale of the threat to our health and well-being will re-orient our relationship towards our friends, families, colleagues, and fellow men and women. Never again shall we feel comfortable when a stranger comes our way. The comfort of being in the presence of others will be lost and replaced greatly by their absence. We will create physical distance by limiting or minimizing our physical contact with other people. But in the end, we will establish more connections as we communicate electronically more often with people who are physically distant but feel safer with us because we are far apart.