December 24, 2020 — Not-So-Merry Holiday Lockdown

I saw the first news report on Sunday evening, and the following afternoon it became official: with the 7-day provincial average of new daily cases of COVID-19 in Ontario continuing to rise — to a record 2,306 cases by December 24 — the provincial government announced a province-wide lockdown beginning on Boxing Day. No indoor organized public events or social gatherings involving those from other households would be permitted (though single parents could retain close contact with one other household — a loophole which sanctions the continuation of weekly games nights with Simon).

Premier Ford departed from his talking points to make special mention, in his usual faux-folksy shtick, of Ottawa during his December 21 press conference, in an effort to explain why the city was being placed back under lockdown despite the incidences of COVID-19 having declined significantly here over the past month.

“I want to give a shout out to the folks of Ottawa, and the mayor out there — you’ve done a great job at lowering numbers. From high numbers, you brought ’em down. But there will be a tremendous risk over the holidays of people flooding in across the [Quebec] border if they were to stay open. And we’ve seen it before in Ottawa from the Quebecers — and we love Quebecers, but they’ll be flowing into Ottawa,” insisted Ford. (French hordes from Hull, surging across the interprovincial bridges! Mon Dieu!)

This explanation didn’t quite cut it with local officials. Instead, it led to a very public spat pitting Ford’s assertions versus the views of Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches, both of whom disagreed with the inclusion of the city in Lockdown 3, given its stable (7-day average of between 40 and 47 since the beginning of December) COVID-19 case counts.

Watson, in an decidedly uncharacteristic outburst, accused Ford’s government of not basing its decision on facts, where Ottawa was concerned, and of “moving the goalposts” after the province had adopted a regional and colour-coded approach to restrictions. Dr. Etches concurred, publicly stating her “disappointment with the decision by the provincial government to apply a 28-day shutdown on the city of Ottawa… in consideration of the evidence of the COVID indicators in our community.” In response, the premier’s office doubled down, producing talking points that characterized Watson and Etches as “reckless and irresponsible,” and feeling compelled to add that “some politicians and pundits may be okay with body bags piling up on their front door steps, but we are not.” (This while social media filled with derisive comments about the province announcing an “urgent” lockdown which would start… in five days — a period during which the pre-Christmas rush to malls and other crowded public spaces would presumably only intensify. “‘Please Pretend that the Lockdown Is Starting Today’ will be a good title for the book someone eventually writes about the failures of government in 2020,” commented Ottawa author Kate Heartfield on Twitter, while Globe and Mail health columnist Andre Picard wondered “what part of ‘now’ and ‘action’ does Doug Ford not understand?”)

But it wasn’t the debate about when the lockdown should start and where it should apply on which my thoughts were fixated, but on the fact that its timing torpedoed the scheduled December 30th departure for Chesley, immediately after Jessie’s 14th birthday, to have Christmas with Mom and Dad in their new house. This sudden, mandatory cancellation of our plans left me feeling very, very low. (My attempt to distract myself with the radio also failed epically — an interview with Adam Clayton of U2 was being broadcast, discussing the songs and context of the band’s 2000 album All That You Can’t Leave Behind, music which my ex and I played frequently when we first were together. Talk about being “stuck in a moment that you can’t get out of.”)

I suggested to the kids that we could leave in the morning, and drive back on Christmas Day to have our Ottawa celebration either that evening or on Boxing Day morning, but they were both (somewhat to my annoyance) firmly against the idea. So that left the fairly unappealing option of me travelling home alone on Tuesday, then setting out to return on Thursday morning to be back for Christmas Eve — 14 hours of driving for an evening-and-a-day visit.

It was a decision which I agonized over for most of an evening. On the one hand, I felt like I would just be miserable and regret it if I didn’t go, as I worry more and more about missing any opportunities to see my parents, but on the other, of course, there were the frequent recommendations — including before the announcement — to just not travel, accompanied by statements along the lines of ‘express love by remaining safely distanced.’ Not to mention that going for such a blink-and-you’d-miss-it visit without the kids might, or probably would, just feel depressing for everyone.

Now, three days later, on Christmas Eve day, I feel fairly at peace with having ultimately decided not to go (perhaps even relieved given the iffy “Rainfall Warning” plus flurries forecast for the next 12 hours). But I don’t feel much less sad about this latest disappointment in a year that overflowed with them. Perhaps a rare Zoom call with them this evening will raise spirits a little. Perhaps?

In the meantime, I’ll keep the advice of local singer, business owner and all-round acerbic sage Kathleen Edwards in mind, which she perfectly sums up in the title of her very funny holiday single:

“It’s Christmastime (let’s just survive).”

U2, All That You Can’t Leave Behind
A Dualtone Christmas, featuring Kathleen Edwards

Music, single parenting, and pandemic-tinted views of the world from central Ottawa, Canada.

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