Canada

Josh Freed: The great outdoors has become our COVID salvation

Jeanne Mance Park has been a love-in of barbecuers, families and Tam-Tammers. Most are socially distanced, but clusters of Covidiots remain.

Most years, springtime is when we flood streets, restaurant terrasses, back yards, front yards, balconies and benches, buzzing like released convicts. This year, we’re all in the nearest park, Josh Freed writes.

In recent weeks, one gift has sprung Montrealers from their pandemic caves and unleashed our annual spring fever.

Welcome to the The Park — a Festival Ground of Conversation.

Most years, springtime is when we flood streets, restaurant terrasses, back yards, front yards, balconies and benches, buzzing like released convicts.

This year, we’re all in the nearest park. The mountain is busier than I’ve ever seen it, filled with joggers, bikers and walkers — many sporting miners’ headlamps in the dark, until 7:58 p.m.

Jeanne-Mance Park has been a giant love-in of barbecuers, families, friend bubbles, acrobats, frisbee players, jugglers and Tam-Tammers.

Many are reasonably distanced in small groups — but clusters of Covidiots are shaking hands, hugging and kissing every available cheek. Yet even if parks were walled off by barbed wire, these germ jerks would be group-hugging on the streets.

Thank God Premier François Legault sensibly backed off on mandatory masking for all outdoor exercise, since no one was paying him the slightest attention.

Rules that said you couldn’t jog outdoors with your partner when you could sleep with them indoors — were silly to many. And with too many silly rules, people start ignoring important ones.

Most people were flouting the new mask rules in my neighbourhood last week — and when everyone breaks one law, it undermines The Law.

As many Quebec commentators are finally saying, let’s entice people into the safe, healthy outdoors — not pressure them to stay indoors where the virus spreads virulently.

Yes, there’s a tiny chance of getting COVID outdoors and social distancing matters, but let’s focus Quebecers on the real risks, not rare ones.

Many media are attacking Legault for his latest zigzag. But this time he zagged the right way — and  one thing I admire about our premier is his humility in changing his mind.

The only thing worse than leaders who make mistakes are leaders who stubbornly stick to them. Overall, Legault gets high marks for admitting errors.

Along with our parks, our streets are an outdoor chat-fest on warm days, too. I’ve run into many of my neighbours for the first time in six months and we’ve been yakking away intimately, yet distantly.

Many single folks had tough winters, locked up alone muttering to themselves. Couples generally fared better, as it’s more fun muttering to someone else.

But we all crave conversation so badly people are blabbing endlessly to bank tellers and restaurant takeout staff, making waits in line twice as long.

With outdoor terrasses closed, takeout fever has exploded on nice evenings. On the Main the other evening, there were 30- to 40-minute lineups at almost every takeout place around.

It’s another argument for opening outdoor patios, where chairs get safely spaced by restaurant staff — rather than everyone crowding in queues, or huddling at park picnics.

Takeout is so feverish in the U.S., there’s now a Great Ketchup Shortage, as supplies of miniature packets have been drained at both Heinz and French’s.

It’s the latest COVID hardship: hot dogs and hamburgers without ketchup, normally a birthright of the American way of life.

Are Canada and Quebec next? What essentials will the pandemic strike here: Will our french fry supply go dry, will there be a great bagel bust?

Amid the frenzy of street life, there’s a lull in people getting shots, largely because of AstraZenephobia. For those worried about blood clots, remember:

The vaccine’s chance of causing a brain clot is 1 in 100,000 — about the same as taking a long flight. So if you’re shunning your shot, you better forget flying to Europe for good.

As for efficacy, two doses of Pfizer or Moderna promise over 90 per cent protection.

AstraZeneca promises 76 per cent but it’s 100 per cent effective against “severe illness and hospitalization.”

I understand the desire for the ultimate shot, but nothing’s perfect. My old friend Jon just got COVID, four weeks after his first Pfizer shot, so nobody’s invulnerable.

It’s a very minor case, probably because he was vaccinated. But he’s lost his sense of taste, bad news for a wonderful gourmet home chef who cooks by taste.

Now he tastes absolutely nothing but lime and salt, which he pours on everything — and he can’t even smell Vicks VapoRub. He could easily work in a fish shop or skunk removal, but I’m eager to see him work as a chef again.

As for the curfew, some 2,500 of you shared my column last week and many shared your stories of despair — about night-time depression, claustrophobia, growing drug problems and family quarrels — all magnified by being cooped up like chickens  in tiny flats at night.

Until the government literally sees the light, here’s a thought: I met a young woman last week who’s found a way to escape home after dark.

Although she has a good daytime job, she has signed up as a night bike courier for a restaurant takeout service — which allows her to be out at all hours, even between orders.

If curfew continues much longer, we may all have jobs at Uber Eats.

joshfreed49@gmail.com

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