August 6, 2020

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Opinion

New Manitoba will take some getting used to

John Woods / The Canadian Press FILE</p><p>Stadium stands packed with boisterous fans seems like an image from a bygone era.</p>

John Woods / The Canadian Press FILE

Stadium stands packed with boisterous fans seems like an image from a bygone era.

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TRAVELLERS to other countries often encounter customs that seem foreign: spitting in public, cheek kissing, bowing, slurping noodles, burping appreciatively after meals.

The new Manitoba emerging from the pandemic lockdown will require new protocols that will initially seem as foreign as customs in a different country.

How do we physically greet each other? How do we react if someone moves in too close? If someone coughs repeatedly in public, do we say something?

The relaxed restrictions on public gatherings began Friday — limits raised to 25 people indoors and 50 people outdoors — and will unite extended family and friends who haven’t met in groups since restrictions were imposed eight weeks ago.

Should we wear masks? Dr. Theresa Tam says yes. As the chief public health officer for Canada, she said Wednesday we should don masks in situations where we can’t be sure to keep a safe distance from others. She said the masks are to protect other people; her implication is that people in public with bare faces are being inconsiderate, even dangerous.

When we meet people we haven’t seen since March 17, we might automatically try a traditional handshake, but the meaning of that gesture has flipped 180 degrees: in old Manitoba, a handshake indicated a friendly welcome, but it’s now seen as a potential transmitter of the virus. So, in new Manitoba, replacement greeting rituals might include elbow bumps, foot touches or hands held over hearts.

Such nervousness about physical contact will be particularly hard on young children. They don’t understand COVID-19, but they do understand they suddenly seem to get the cold shoulder from relatives and family friends who used to welcome them with open arms and lots of hugs. It can’t be good to raise children with a chill on physical contact.

The new ways of interacting with people will extend beyond our personal orbit to the way we perceive strangers. The virus has made us suspicious of people approaching on sidewalks or in stores, as we evaluate whether they’re masked or seem prepared to keep six feet away. When we must brush past other people, in supermarket aisles for instance, we hold our breath until we pass behind the range of germs the stranger may breathe out.

In restaurants that could soon reopen indoor dining, we will try to read the room. If the smell of disinfectant overpowers the odour of cooking food, that will be reassuring. If a diner at a neighbouring table suddenly coughs, we will feel uneasy.

Even for those of us who feel it’s more important than ever to shop locally and keep our money in Manitoba, as opposed to clicking on Amazon, we will feel a new apprehension about the stores’ ventilation systems, about touching retail goods, trying on clothing in fitting rooms, and using the mall washrooms.

Despite this week’s relaxed restrictions, there has been little public discussion about when large crowds can again gather in the new Manitoba.

Churches, mosques, synagogues and temples have longstanding rituals — many have developed over millennia — that often involve physical proximity. The faithful may need to adapt. Some churches in Germany have resumed services but congregational singing is forbidden because people emit respiratory droplets when they sing. Perhaps they will resort to congregational humming with closed lips.

Summer in Manitoba is dull without such entertainment as festivals, concerts and theatrical plays. Research on the virus indicates there is less likelihood of contagion outdoors, so perhaps the shows can soon go on if held on outdoor stages at Assiniboine Park and The Forks, and the unique semi-outdoor venue, Rainbow Stage, in Kildonan Park.

Professional sports are usually a boisterous way for Manitobans to unite, but no one has yet proposed a safe way to fill the stands with fans, who provide essential revenue for the teams to survive financially. Attending Winnipeg Jets or Blue Bombers games used to mean cramming shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow fans, spreading microscopic germs when we cheer. As far as making anti-viral safeguards mandatory for fans, it’s difficult to wear face masks and also drink beer and chant "Go Jets go!"

The great hope for resuming large crowds in Manitoba is the V-word: vaccine. There are many vaccines, treatments and protections in development and, encouragingly, some have moved to the stage of human testing, including a clinical trial in Halifax, N.S.

Combined with this week’s relaxations of Manitoba restrictions, the ongoing vaccine tests on humans are cause for optimism. And optimism has been in short supply for the past eight weeks. In old Manitoba, this week would have been celebrated with high-fives.

carl.degurse@freepress.mb.ca

Carl DeGurse is a member of the Free Press editorial board.

Carl DeGurse

Carl DeGurse
Senior copy editor

Carl DeGurse’s role at the Free Press is a matter of opinion. A lot of opinions.

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