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Opinion: People ready to break B.C. COVID-19 restrictions for their mental health

Large Christmas dinners planned
COVID-19 cases are increasing in Burnaby and B.C.

We have entered a new phase in this pandemic and it could not have come at a worse time.

There are new pandemic restrictions just in time for the holiday season and I’m seeing a little more pushback to them than seen previously.

The latest restrictions and “guidance” from Dr. Bonnie Henry, however, are rather modest in scope and fall far short of measures we have seen before.

For example, B.C. restaurants and schools remain open, at least for now. By contrast, Ontario has reduced crowd capacity in restaurants and limited alcohol sales in them.

While Quebec has banned crowds from Montreal Canadiens home games, Henry is allowing the Vancouver Canucks and other teams to have the stands filled with 50% of the fans present.

This is all happening as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is racing around much of the world and infecting people at an incredibly rapid pace.

Despite Henry’s light touch, I am collecting a fair amount of anecdotal information that suggests that there may more instances of non-compliance at this point of the pandemic.

Close to 90% of our population has been fully vaccinated - the number of booster doses is growing 25,000 a day - and we’ve all gotten used to wearing masks, keeping our distance and not gathering in large numbers at social occasions.

Understandably, people feel they have done their part for so long now and simply want a break from it all.

And that is why I think Henry did not impose even stricter rules. She has always tried to balance measures to stop the spread of the virus against the need for the public to “buy into” them, and the need to protect everyone’s mental health.

I know several educated, vaccinated people who are ignoring the federal government’s “advisory” not to travel internationally right now and their reasons for going are tied to protecting their mental health.

A bunch of callers to me on radio station CKNW have said they intend to do things like exceed the maximum 10 guests rule and have large Christmas dinners.

I think these folks are a minority in the public but they are out there in greater numbers than before.

Henry has indicated she could always bring in even stricter measures in the weeks ahead if things get really out of hand. The key indicators to keep an eye on are hospitalization numbers tied to COVID-19 cases.

Until last week, B.C. had been pushing COVID-19 cases down but the arrival of Omicron changed that. So far, however, the steep rise of Omicron has not resulted in a big increase in hospital cases.

Perhaps Omicron will become a “nuisance virus” that infects a lot of people but does not inflict a lot of damage. Let’s hope so.

The next few weeks are critical. There will be some folks who choose not to obey the rules, but I suspect most of us have gotten used to our new way of living.

Hang on everyone.

Keith Baldrey is Global BC’s chief political reporter.