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OPINION: Tricky finding 'sweet spot' to restart B.C. economy

How can we – even gently – restart the economy and live normal lives again without risk?
Dr. Bonnie Henry. Photo: Province of British Columbia

Somewhere out there lurks the answer to a riddle that has the potential to profoundly shape our view of communities in the coming months.

How can we ease out of the new set of restrictions and code of conduct without endangering our health-care system and individuals with exposure to COVID19? How can we – even gently – restart the economy and live normal lives again without risk?

Dr. Bonnie Henry calls it the “sweet spot,” and she hopes to find it in the next few weeks. And then to find it again, and again. Over and over again.

For at least a year.

The provincial health officer’s message in her near-daily briefing this past weekend was at once hopeful about where we are headed, but also blunt in her assessment that wherever we are headed, it will not look the same as our past.

Social distancing restrictions will remain in place, subject to some modifications from time to time.

“We need to find a sweet spot,” she said on her call with reporters. “A balancing of connection, that allows us to be with close connections and close families, but still protecting our health care system, protecting those who are more vulnerable to having severe illnesses with this virus.”

And, she added: “So it's going to be a modification for the next year.”

Think about that for a moment.

A year (at least) of living in this nearly surreal existence so many of us find ourselves in. Working from home. Minimal shopping. No travel. Staying well apart from all people except your immediate family.

No big dinners. No going out for dinner. No going to the movies. No fairs, no festivals, no celebrations.

No Canucks. No Lions. No Whitecaps (if these teams play games, they most assuredly will be playing in front of empty stands).

When you add up all these non-activities, the slate looks pretty bleak.

Which brings us back to that “sweet spot,” which may well change that bleakness.

That will mark how and where an easing of some of these restrictions occurs and allows most of us to breathe again and to enjoy activities that are currently frowned upon.

“The easing of restrictions – when they come – will be gradual and will be slow and thoughtful,” Henry said. Moreover, when any easing does come, everything will be reviewed in two-week increments throughout the year (because the virus has a 14-day incubation period).

If that sweet spot proves elusive and cannot be found, that may have dire implications for the mental health and attitudes of many British Columbians.

It is imperative that people continue their buy-in of the prescriptive measures advocated by Henry.  And she is right when she and Health Minister Adrian Dix say we have to keep going, we have to keep flattening the curve.

However, at some point the easing will kick in. We do not know what it will look like just yet.

It will likely start with the resumption of elective surgeries. Perhaps larger (slightly) gatherings will be allowed. Maybe camping can occur on a limited basis. Schools will re-open in some fashion (and will look quite different). Golf courses and some other businesses may re-open (some already have).

Whatever it ultimately looks like, that “sweet spot” cannot be found fast enough. Nevertheless, given that Henry is in charge of finding it, it will not stay hidden for long.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC