Jack Knox: A quiet weekend on the ferries as B.C. plots new COVID course

Not your normal Victoria Day mass exodus at Swartz Bay on Monday. No rat race up the Pat Bay Highway. No ferry terminal jammed with vacationing mainlanders fighting their way back to Toronto-by-the-Sea.

In fact, the terminal looked like a Friends of Trudeau rally in Calgary, mostly a sea of deserted asphalt. And none of the few cars in line showed signs of non-essential travel: No pool noodles sticking out the windows, no surfboards lashed to the roof.

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“It has definitely been very quiet for us all weekend,” said B.C. Ferries’ Tessa Humphries. Even without the extra sailings that would normally be added to the major routes for the holiday, there was plenty of empty space on board. And no, Humphries hadn’t heard of any travellers being turned away for breaking essential-travel rules.

B.C. authorities were worried about how we would behave this long weekend. They were afraid of the kind of rule-bending that led to COVID spiking after Christmas and Easter. “Whenever there’s been a long weekend, we’ve seen an increase in case counts,” Premier John Horgan said last week. That’s why the premier, Adrian Dix and Dr. Bonnie held off ­announcing the details of the province’s restart plan until today. They feared we would jump the gun.

But we didn’t, at least not at the ferry terminals, which left people feeling like kids on Christmas Eve: We have been good, Santa, have been following the rules and getting our shots, so can we expect treats under the tree? An end to the travel ban? In-restaurant dining? Or — dare to dream — actual events, something to do other than watch Netflix, stumble through Zoom or trod the same damn trails we’ve been trodding for a year?

We are warned not to get too excited. It won’t be like flipping a switch. “It’s going to be a dimmer switch,” is the way Dr. Bonnie described the easing of restrictions.

Even if she were to fling the doors open and ditch all the COVID rules, green-lighting an Extra gum commercial in which people peel off their masks and make out with strangers in the street, it would be too late for a lot of the big-crowd events anyway. Organizers require certainty and months, not weeks, of lead time. Lacrosse’s Shamrocks and Timbermen cancelled their season last week. Baseball’s HarbourCats and the new ­Nanaimo NightOwls team will have to wait until next year. No Oak Bay Tea Party this June. No Gorge picnic or fireworks over the Inner Harbour on Canada Day.

Tourists? The Coho remains docked. Ditto for the Clipper and the Anacortes ferry. A year ago we were freaked out about plague-ridden cruise ships ­pulling into Ogden Point; now we fret about them passing us by.

Still, people are eager to get on with life again. They have long-delayed weddings and funerals to plan, well-loved relations to hug, careers to revive — and they’re frustrated with those they blame for holding them back.

Take attitudes to vaccine passports. Last week, an Ipsos poll showed most Canadians want them for anyone boarding a plane, travelling internationally, going to a concert or game (indoors or out), attending a post-secondary institution, or visiting a seniors home.

Similarly, a Leger poll this month found 80 per cent of Canadians support COVID passports for air travel, whether between provinces or out of the country. Two-thirds favoured proof of vaccination before entering public spaces such as restaurants, bars, concert halls and arenas.

Passports get presented as a health and safety issue—shouldn’t people have the right to be protected from infection by the unvaccinated? — but there’s also an element of punishing the recalcitrant. It reflects resentment toward those seen as slowing the recovery.

We are losing patience, which is dangerous, because that can cloud judgment. How much of a reopening is enough? Or too much? Here’s a quick test: If you turned on the Stanley Cup playoffs on Sunday, you saw 12,135 fans in the arena in Nashville, but if you flipped the channel to the game in Winnipeg, the stands were as empty as Oak Bay after dark. Did that A) make you envious of the Americans, or B) want to seal the borders for good.

Summer is here. We want to get going. But how far, how fast?

jknox@timescolonist.com

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