'An amped-up version of normal': Crowds flock as first no-restrictions summer since 2019 dawns

The London Free Press by Jennifer Bieman, posted June 23, 2022

The rapid return of crowds to London venues and events was “entirely foreseeable” in the post-emergency phase of the pandemic, one historian says, as people live out their first restriction-free spring and summer since 2019.

Months after the province rolled back some of its biggest COVID-19 rules on masks, vaccine passport and capacity limits, the crowds attending London Music Week events this week have been at or near pre-pandemic levels, said founder and organizer Mario Circelli.

“We had a good crowd out for the kickoff showcase Sunday and (the) musicians for mental health (event),” Circelli said. “At our Made in London event at Eastside Bar and Grill, the manager told me it was the best Monday night crowd they’ve had in a while. The award show at Aeolian Hall on Sunday was incredibly well-attended. We had just over 200 people.”

London Music Week ends Sunday with an awards gala for rock, pop, country and other genres at London Music Hall, an event Circelli is optimistic will draw a sizable crowd. “We’re seeing a commitment from people to come out and see some live shows and support our own,” he said.

More than 7,000 Fanshawe College graduates flocked to Budweiser Gardens during three days of graduation ceremonies starting Monday. Western University also is holding in-person convocation ceremonies for the first time since 2019. About 8,000 students are expected to cross the stage at Alumni Hall during 20 ceremonies through Friday.

People flying out of the London airport in recent weeks have faced some cancellations and delays as labour shortages – and a surge of summer travellers – hobble Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

 The rush to return to normal after the crisis phase of the pandemic was predictable given societal response to other historic hardships, said Jonathan Vance, a Western University professor who teaches military history and specializes in wartime life on the home front.

“You can go back to the Black Death in the 14th century and find people writing about how once the pestilence had passed their town, people returned to high-living and a you-only-live-once kind of attitude,” Vance said. “This response has been going on for centuries and will continue. It’s just a natural human response.”

The public tended not to brood about the First World War, Spanish Flu or Second World War when the world-changing events drew to a close, regardless of how deadly and traumatic the situations were, Vance said.

Instead, people have historically been very motivated to move on after a crisis passes.

“Whenever society passes through something that has been traumatic, I think the first thing we want to do is return to normal. But it tends to be a kind of amped-up version of normal,” Vance said. “Everything is more and bigger and faster, like the original normal wasn’t good enough.”

“One hopes that, as a society and particularly our government, we have learned some lessons so we can continue to do the things we like a little more safely,” he said. “This isn’t the first or only pandemic in the 21st century. But at the same time, we can’t live in fear. . . . We need to psychologically be more accepting of the fact that living is a risky thing and we can be mindful of risk, but we can’t let the risks govern our entire lives.”

After two years of rolling public health restrictions – limiting everything from retail and event venue capacity to bar opening hours – the province began loosening rules in February and March, on the tail end of the Omicron-fuelled sixth wave.

Ontario scrapped its proof-of-vaccination requirement in indoor public spaces and lifted capacity limits March 1. Weeks later, Ontario lifted its sweeping mask mandate in places such as stores and restaurants. The remaining mask mandates for health care settings and public transit expired earlier this month.

Public health officials have said restrictions and additional booster doses of the COVID-19 vaccine may be necessary in the fall and winter, as immunity wanes and the virus makes a seasonal resurgence.