From playdates to movie matinees, a small taste of normal

Whether it was being immersed in a musical on a giant screen, baking a cake with a best friend or taking a ferry to see family on the mainland, Tuesday offered many Islanders their first taste of pre-pandemic times this year.

Brielle Tran, 15, was smoothing homemade butter-cream icing onto a crushed Oreo and vanilla cake she baked in her friend’s kitchen, taking advantage of the fact indoor playdates are now allowed under eased restrictions.

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“We’re making a cake and just hanging out,” said Brielle, who had plans to watch videos with her friend later in the day. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but for teens confined to socializing through masks at school or via mobile devices, old-school hanging out feels like a novelty.

B.C. started the second stage of its four-phase ­reopening plan Tuesday, allowing a return to movie theatres and high-intensity fitness clubs, in-province recreational travel, outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people, and extension of liquor service to midnight at bars and restaurants.

Each stage of the four-part reopening depends on more people receiving COVID vaccinations, along with fewer cases, hospitalizations and deaths. The province reported 108 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, including four in Island Health. Just over 76 per cent of adults have received a first vaccine dose. No new deaths were reported.

Moviegoers in Victoria had their pick of matinees on Tuesday, including A Quiet Place Part II, and Godzilla vs. Kong.

“When I saw they were opening today, I had to go,” said Angie Ackerman, who was waiting for the doors to open at downtown Victoria’s Cineplex Odeon. Before theatres closed in November, she would usually see one or two matinees each week. On Tuesday, she bought a ticket for In The Heights, a musical. Was it the kind of movie she would normally see? “No, but I’m desperate.”

A steady stream of moviegoers poured in for the first showings in seven months. One mother admitted she had pulled her sons out of school under the pretext of an appointment.

At Swartz Bay ferry terminal, Valerie ­Manton was in the lineup for the 1 p.m. sailing to ­Tsawwassen on Tuesday — the first day non-essential travel was saunctioned across health regions — eager to see family in ­Vancouver.

“I haven’t seen them all year, and I’ve got grandchildren,” said Manton. “My grandchildren need me and I’m going.”

Sharon Zohar was also at Swartz Bay, on her way home to Vancouver after a morning house-hunting trip in Victoria. “We’ve been waiting to come over,” she said. “[We] put an offer on a house. We’ll find out if we’re relocating or not.”

Doris Kershaw-Schmitt, who often travels to Kelowna, where she has family and a second home, was in the lineup, too. “I think it’s great that people can now come and go,” she said. “I’m really hoping that we’re good, and by July or August everybody will be done and maybe we can do some travel in Canada.”

Server Robyn Grey, who was working in the Games Room of the Sticky Wicket in the Strathcona Hotel on Tuesday, said she is happy that opening hours now extend to midnight instead of 10 p.m., since it offers the opportunity to earn more money. The later hours also draw a more dynamic younger crowd, which creates a lively atmosphere and energizes the staff, she said.

Grant Olson, co-owner of the Strathcona, called the extended hours, now in effect at the Rooftop, Sticky Wicket, Big Bad Johns and the Strath Ale Wine and Spirit Merchant store, “a big step in the right direction, as we can now have visitors from throughout B.C.. The midnight closing time really helps the evening business.”

For India and Mason McQuarrie’s daughter Brooke, who was only three months old when the pandemic was declared last March, the world is “opening up,” says her mother.

Now 18 months, Brooke has spent most of her life with just her own household. She’s not keen on strangers or loud social noises, and her mother wonders if that’s just her nature or the result of pandemic isolation.

With Tuesday’s reopening, India McQuarrie hopes to set up Brooke’s first playdate of 2021: “The world has just opened up for Brooke, finally, at last, which is so nice.”

Meanwhile, eldest sister Helena, 13, has already arranged a sleepover on July 2 with four other friends. On July 1, if all indicators are where the provincial health officer wants them to be, the province’s restart plan will move to step 3, which will permit indoor sleepovers. “Helena is so excited. She is ready to go.”

— With files from Jeff Bell and Jack Knox

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