Tougher measures overdue to shake B.C. out of its COVID complacency

Dr. Bonnie Henry is the epitome of nice.

Maybe, it turns out, too nice for our own good.

What seems clearer in recent days is that her public health direction, profoundly skilled and occasionally helped with a little luck, not only permitted British Columbia to flatten the curve but for British Columbians to flatten our resolve.

We mistook the relatively modest caseloads in the warm weather and her steady, sonorous mantras as an assured charm on the beast not yet tamed. Her advice was never wrong, but our interpretation of it was. We heard calm and didn’t abide the calamity beneath it. We let our fellow dogs out on the leash, and now here we are, suddenly badly bitten.

A bit of stick seems in order.

To flog the analog: these two weeks for all of us in the doghouse will be a surprise if they are only that, in part because days after the public health order, people living within the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health Authorities are anything but authorities on the boundaries they must abide. We are old hounds trying just to remember the old tricks, much less learning new ones.

Not that we weren’t warned we would digress from our routines in the pandemic – that even with clean hands and a mask and an anti-social countenance, this would be a marathon that feels even longer than one, because for every two strides ahead, there might be one or three taken back.

But here we are in a land of confusion, paying a price for not fully paying a price.

Go for a walk with a friend, sure; walk into a restaurant for a meal, kind of OK; invite the friend home for a nightcap, no way. A fitness class, no chance; a personal trainer, why yes. A book club, nope; a reading tutor, yep. A recreational hockey game, no; a recreational hockey skills session of breakaways and playmaking, have at it. Singles tennis, yep; doubles, uh, uh. Work, be careful; school, send the kids.

Destabilizing enough to make you suddenly worried about bingeing Netflix. Maybe the public health order will let you watch only one episode a day.

But we brought it on. It’s the 2020 version of give-an-inch, take-a-mile: more like give-two-metres, took-less-than-one behaviour. Now we need to own our excessive intimacy.

The caseloads and the positive tests are growing at a rate we have not yet seen in the pandemic in B.C. We were used to 500 cases a week, not a day, and that is unlikely the peak unless we stop having big weddings and funerals, make small-portioned dinners for the household and no more, eschew the spin class for a bike that goes somewhere, entertain our children instead of sending them on playdates, and send a drink to the next table with a wave instead of a walk over to fraternize.

Within hours Monday of getting the lieutenant governor’s blessing on his government’s official status, the premier went from Mr. Chuckles to Mr. Knuckles on our minimalist response to date to the minimalist restrictions.

John Horgan wouldn’t be the first politician to turn back the clock, but he had a serious edge to his threat to send us back to those uncertain first few weeks of spring. He wasn’t quite channeling the brutish Doug Ford, but radar indicated he was tracking in that direction.

In doing so, he was stepping in rightfully where Henry rightfully shouldn’t – and shouldn’t have needed to over these last months, had an opportunistic election not been called. It is his political job, not her public health one, to force the medicine she prescribes down our gullets, and he was hesitant in the election campaign to administer anything that didn’t come with a spoonful of sugar.

We lost the plot, we fell into the traps others did elsewhere in mistaking modest short-term success with a fulfilled task. We now have to stop being smug and, in his words, “get with the program.”

But now Horgan must keep us in the place Henry wants.

She is the star play-maker, he is the enforcer, and, in hindsight, the election timing put all the wrong pressure on her skill set and wisdom. She can now be the good doctor, he can be the one without bedside manner – the one who will send us back to April in December if we take liberties with Dr. Henry’s directives.

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.