Canadians Assess COVID-19 Danger During Vacation
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Fewer Canadians gathered around glittering Christmas trees to tear up presents with friends and family on Saturday as COVID-19 put a damper on the festivities for a second year in a row, but the holiday spirit has nonetheless managed to shine for many.
Public health experts have spent the past few weeks urging people to keep their gatherings small and intimate – if they were to go ahead – as COVID-19 cases spike across the country due to the variant Omicron which spreads quickly.
Still, dozens of people attended a reduced midday mass at St. Michael’s Cathedral Basilica in downtown Toronto, where worshipers wore masks and stood two meters apart.
Bernadette Alexander, who was present with a friend, said the service was especially emotional because she had loved it from home for so long.
“We were just saying it’s been almost two years. We watch Mass on TV, but it’s the first time we’ve attended Mass in person in two years,” Alexander said.
“It was amazing. It was beautiful. It made me cry, actually.”
Froila Fernandes, an international student from India who moved to Canada two months ago, attended the service on her own – her first in this country.
“I found this service so spiritually enriching for me today because I felt like it was something that I have been missing here since I moved,” she said.
“Being able to go through this was so heartwarming and so touching for me. I couldn’t stop crying.”
At Saint Gabriel Parish in Toronto, Christmas trees and poinsettias were on display before a small in-person mass on Saturday.
A pianist was playing Christmas tunes which filled the church. Green markers indicated where worshipers could sit among the benches while being physically removed.
Christine Odunlami from Toronto said she usually takes vacations south of the border to catch up with loved ones, but because she suffers from asthma, she didn’t feel comfortable traveling this year.
“It’s still a bit lonely in a way,” she said. “I’m more used to being with my family this time of year.”
Odunlami said this year’s celebrations included a small Christmas Eve dinner with friends, complete with vaccination checks, and a virtual Zoom party with other loved ones.
In Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Const. Ryan Bell did his first Christmas shift on Saturday. It was quiet and he and other officers helped the Royal Canadian Legion in the small town in southwest Nova Scotia distribute food and gifts to members.
“While driving on the roads here in town, we didn’t see a lot of vehicles,” Bell said.
“With the pandemic, I think a lot of people are staying home, staying with their families, and enjoying Christmas.”
Few provinces reported new diagnoses of COVID-19 on Christmas Day, although Quebec was an exception. It has seen 9,206 new cases and four more deaths.
In recent days, many provinces have broken records with their number of infections.
On Christmas Eve, Ontario broke the record set a day earlier with 9,571 new cases, while British Columbia announced a new high of 2,144 infections and Manitoba broke its record with 742.
Nunavut, with eight infections in several communities, on Friday ordered a complete lockdown of the territory.
Back in Ontario, St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church in Kincardine handed out free meals on Christmas Day in drive-through mode in the parking lot like they did in 2020 – instead of offering lunches. sitting as it was before the pandemic.
Organizer Sam Finnie said the church distributed 216 meals on Saturday afternoon. Meals included turkey, potatoes, turnip, stuffing, mixed vegetables, gravy, cranberries and dessert. They were made possible through donations from community members, he said.
It meant a lot to be able to give meals to those in need as well as to people who won’t be celebrating the holidays with their loved ones this year, Finnie said.
Toronto-based Dr Naheed Dosani said finding other ways to celebrate is the responsible thing to do during this phase of the pandemic.
“We’ve come so far and sacrificed so much that right now the decision to put vacation plans on hold is the right thing to do.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on December 25, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of Facebook and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.
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