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Kurl: Canada is slowly shrugging off that lockdown mentality

While once we longed for the company of others, many have become very accustomed to our hermit-like existences. A party, you propose? A family reunion? Perhaps too much, too soon.

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As suddenly as they came on — upending our lives, wrenching us away from our friends and loved ones and classrooms and places of work — the shackles of life with COVID-19 are beginning to loosen and fall away.

It’s all too soon for some of us, not a moment too soon for others. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been hinting at an easing of border restrictions once 75 per cent of the country has been jabbed with at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, and when 20 per cent have had two doses.

For the last 16 months, the land border has been closed to non-essential travel. Nearly half of Canadians told the Angus Reid Institute recently it should stay closed until at least September. Having been locked into a locked-down mentality for so long, and with the ravages of the third wave still prominent in the rear-view mirror, it isn’t surprising Canadians tilt towards caution. But frequent travellers, those who left Canada six or more times in a year in pre-pandemic times, believe it’s time to get on with things. More than half of this group would re-open the border by the end of the month if not sooner.

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As to those mandatory hotel quarantine stays for returning international air travellers … it was a requirement with a strange story arc, but few will grieve its cancellation. For those of us who have already forgotten (and who can blame us, the pandemic is apparently making our brains foggy), forcing returning travellers to stay in a hotel for 72 hours at their own expense was a plan born of the outrage of #alohagate, that sad December interregnum when most dutiful citizens stayed put for Christmas, while a few entitled politicians took off for warmer climes. The discoveries infuriated a nation. By January, fully two-thirds were calling for a complete lid on the border: a prohibition of all flights in and out of the country.

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“Do something,” a nation seethed. The federal government’s response was hotel quarantines, a requirement so utterly performative in its implementation, but so soothing to rattled Canadians, that by mid-April nearly six in 10 deemed the requirement “necessary” but only half that number believed it was “effective” at reducing the spread of COVID-19. Eventually, it shall be gone too.

Freedom — our comfort with and concepts of it — is malleable. In the first months of the pandemic, we often asked Canadians when they believed this time in our life would be behind us and life would go back to normal. What became clear is that significant segments thought things would never normalize. For those of us who have lost loved ones, or seen them very ill, this is true.

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For many of us however, “normalization” is a mindset. Where once we dreamed of a post-pandemic beach vacation, a return to the movies might feel like enough of an initial stretch. While once we longed for the company of others, many have embraced, or at least become very accustomed to, our hermit-like existences. A party, you propose? A family reunion? Perhaps too much, too soon.

Others are more than ready to consign pandemic life to the dustbin, along with a year’s supply of stretchy pants, slippers and takeout.

Reopening the Canada-U.S. border isn’t only a needed function of two intermeshed economies in desperate need of a kickstart. It is also an important symbol (nationally and individually), that as comforting as it may feel, we can’t cocoon in the embrace of our warm and soft hoodie sweatshirts forever.

Canadians have proven themselves to be champions on the vaccination front. Our rewards for stepping up will be the freedoms that we are ready for, and the ones we aren’t. However you spend it, your best summer is almost here. Enjoy.

Shachi Kurl is President of the Angus Reid Institute, a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research foundation.

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