By Mike Baker
If anyone walking around downtown Haliburton on Friday afternoon heard an accented voice bellowing out the word “freedom” in a loud, over-the-top manner, don’t worry, there wasn’t a live re-enactment of the brutal Braveheart scene showcasing William Wallace’s death going on nearby.
Instead, yours truly simply allowed excitement to shine through at the news that Ontario will be moving into Step 3 of its reopening plan as early as this week.
It’s a long time coming, isn’t it.
Aside from a couple of weeks in March, Ontario has been partially under lock and key for the best part of six months. Six months. We’ve had to watch on as allies and neighbours all around us have opened up and gone about their day-to-day lives in, well, pretty much normal fashion.
I have friends in the U.S. who don’t know what it is to wear a mask while in public, who have been attending concerts and sporting events since the turn of the year. I have family in the UK who have been allowed to gather for weddings, birthday parties and baby showers. Meanwhile, we here in Ontario have had to gain approval to take two steps outside of our front door.
Okay, it hasn’t been quite that bad. But I’m sure you understand my point.
I’ve been secretly calling for the Ontario government to move up its reopening timelines for weeks. I failed to understand why we were being left in Step 1 and Step 2 for so long when the daily numbers of new COVID-19 cases reached almost 12-month lows, and when the inoculation rate for first and second doses of the vaccine long surpassed the levels health officials and Doug Ford himself said they had to reach before we moved forward.
But alas, we are here now. We’re not totally and completely open – there are still limits on the number of people that can attend indoor and outdoor social gatherings, concerts, sporting events and things of that nature. But the key, for me, is that these events, these gatherings are happening again. And that it’s relatively safe for us to attend.
As of press time, around 80 per cent of Ontarians have received one dose of the vaccine, while more than 50 per cent are now totally vaccinated. Those numbers really are a sight for sore eyes, especially when, just a few short months ago, it appeared that our entire summer would be consumed by COVID-19.
Now, we have things to look forward to. Restaurants around the county will be fully operational as of Friday, with patrons once again welcome to dine inside. Cinemas, museums and galleries will reopen. Most importantly, community events can be organized and attended.
Already there’s a concert series planned for Abbey Gardens next month. The Haliburton Rotary Club is getting ready to host its beef on a bun fundraiser, with a few other things potentially in the pipeline. Looking beyond summer, the Haliburton Huskies are getting ready to kick off their inaugural season with a home exhibition on Sept. 18.
Now that we’ve received the fabled thumbs up from the province, I expect things will quickly get back to normal here in the Highlands. We’ve already started to see how busy it can get along Highland Street on Fridays and over the weekend. Now that businesses can reopen as usual, and with more things going on attracting people to the downtown core, that summertime feeling will be here soon enough.
I, for one, can’t wait.