Tag Archives: COVID

VIFF 2021: Mix Of Online And Live Theatre

VIFF 2021 will increase it’s cinema capacity, but restrictions will apply.

It’s a fall tradition of mine. The Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) comes back and I end up volunteering for it. It’s a tradition that was broken last year. You can’t blame me. The COVID pandemic severely limited seating capacities and the number of films they could show on screens, not to mention theatre attendance. Last’s year’s VIFF was a case where few shows were shown in theatres and most were screened online. This year, the VIFF makes a big return back to the theatres, if not a complete return.

The International Village which used to allow three of its theatres to show VIFF films during fourteen of its sixteen days isn’t doing it this year. The Centre for the Performing Arts isn’t giving itself to the VIFF this year either. There are five theatres from past years that are VIFF venues again this year: Cinematheque, Vancouver Playhouse, Rio Theatre, SFU Goldcorp Theatre and the VanCity Theatre at the VIFF Centre. The VIFF also acquired four new venues to facilitate for the fest:

  • Annex Theatre – It’s called the Annex because it’s the annex to the Orpheum theatre. It’s a nice cabaret-style theatre that served the VIFF before as a lecture hall or conference room. This time, it will be showing films throughout most of the VIFF.
  • Hollywood Theatre – Those that remember my blogging from bygone days will know the Hollywood is a theatre in the West Broadway area build back in the 1930’s. Although it’s no longer owned by the original members, it has reopened to become a multi-event stage with mostly theatrical shows and music concerts. During the VIFF, it will return to its original purpose as a movie theatre.
  • Studio Theatre: VIFF Centre – Even before the pandemic hit, there was a fundraising initiative underway at the VanCity Theatre of creating a studio theatre meant for screening local films and give more local filmmakers opportunity. It was finally opened this summer and this is the first VIFF in which it will serve as a venue! Just to the left of the main studio theatre at the VanCity, it’s smaller in capacity but can serve its purpose well.
  • Kay Meek Arts Centre – I think this is the first VIFF venue outside of the city of Vancouver ever. Located in West Vancouver Secondary School, this local theatre is also a major centre for arts in West Vancouver.

This year, I’m back to volunteering. I will be at the Playhouse Theatre and working as part of a ‘skeleton crew,’ which is the minimum number of volunteers a facility can have at one time. This is one of the precautions as part of the pandemic. The second is that theatres will only be at 50% capacity. The third precaution is that people are to have their BC Vaccine Card or Vaccine Passport to get into theatres. For those who don’t know what a Vaccine Card or Vaccine Passport is, it’s a scanner code the certifies that one has been vaccinated twice.

For those that are still too nervous about going into a theatre, there are many of the VIFF films that can be streamed online. Many of you may remember that the majority of VIFF films from last year can be streamed from wherever they wanted whenever they wanted. Not the case this year as the online screenings can be screened during select times and there are many that have a limit to the number of online customers of that screening.

The VIFF will be starting today and running until Monday October 11th, which is Canadian Thanksgiving. Returning back to the Festival are VIFF Immersed technology exhibits, VIFF Totally Indie Day, VIFF Talks and Masterclasses and VIFF AMP music conferences. For film lineups, there will be 185 films. 73 of them will get a cinema run. Of the sixteen expected to stand out:

  • The Electrical Life of Louis Wain – The Opening Gala film. It’s an eccentric biographical film of artist Louis Wain who is played by Benedict Cumberbatch and directed by Will Sharpe.
  • Petite Maman – The Closing Gala film. The latest feature from Portrait Of A Lady On Fire director Celine Sciamma. It’s a unique story of the mysterious bond between mother and daughter.
  • All My Puny Sorrows – Michael McGowan directs this film adaptation of the novel by Miriam Toews. Alison Pill stars as a young woman hugely concerned for her talented sister.
  • Belfast – A film loaded with potential Oscar buzz. Kenneth Branagh directs this story of the spark of civilian unrest in 1969 Northern Ireland as seen through the eyes of a child.
  • Benediction – Directed by Terence Davies, It’s a portrait of World War I poet Siegfried Sassoon. It stars Jack Lowden and Peter Capaldi.
  • Bergman Island – Directed Mia Hansen-Love. As the village Ingmar Bergman grew up in has been turned into a theme park , two filmmakers, played by Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth, ponder their relationship.
  • Drive My Car – A three-hour film by Ryusuke Hamaguchi. A recently-widowed theatre director tries to live life again as he puts together a new production, and casts his late wife’s lover as the lead.
  • Everything Went Fine – Directed by Francois Ozon and stars Sophie Marceau and Charlotte Rampling, it’s the story of an 85 year-old man who wants his daughter to end his life, while she tries to change his mind.
  • Memoria – Directed by Uncle Boonmee director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, it’s the story of an orchid grower in Colombia, played by Tilda Swinton, who experiences a booming noise only she can hear.
  • Mothering Sunday – Directed by Eva Husson, it’s about a maid in 1924 who spends time with her lover before he is about to marry a younger woman. Can she change his mind?
  • Night Raiders – Directed by Danis Goulet, this is a futuristic film set in 2043 and Canada plans to return to past colonial ways of treating Indigenous children.
  • Official Competition – The film is about a Spanish female film directer trying to direct two male movie stars with big egos. It’s co-directed by Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat and it stars Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz.
  • One Second – Directed by Zhang Yimou, It’s a story of a man during China’s Cultural Revolution who escapes China’s labor camps to see his actress daughter on screen. It’s no easy task.
  • Red Rocket – Directed by Florida Project director Sean Baker, this film is of a washed-up porn star returning to his hometown trying to reconcile with his wife, but also promoting a young teenaged girl to stardom.
  • The Sanctity Of Space – A documentary directed by Renan Ozturk and Freddie Wilkinson. It’s of the mission to meet with famed cartographer Bradford Washburn whose worked opened up a new world for mountain climbers pursuing Alaska and Yukon.
  • The Worst Person In The World – Directed by Joachim Trier, it’s a coming of age story of a young woman about a young woman who leaves a trail of destruction in her wake.

And there you go. That’s just a brief preview of the highlights at this year’s VIFF. But the VIFF has more films to offer. Way more. It’s worth checking out over these next eleven days.

Eurovision Song Contest Held During The Pandemic

In the middle of May 2021, the Eurovision Song Contest took place while the COVID pandemic was still happening. In addition, it allowed seating capacity for thousands of spectators. One would consider this to be a very dangerous move as the world is trying to recover from a world wide pandemic. Few know that this is an event to test whether it’s possible to hold a concert during a pandemic.

EUROVISION 2020 CANCELLED

2020 started like any other year. If there was COVID happening, it was half a world away and showed no real signs of crossing any borders. The Rotterdam Ahoy arena looked like it had plans to be made ready to stage the Eurovision 2020 while national TV networks were getting their performers and songs ready, whether by internal selection or by hosting national finals. Then the pandemic crossed borders. The news got more frightening every day as cases were starting to crop up from country to country. Sports events like the PGA golf series, MLB and NFL football had to cancel their seasons, the Olympics had to postpone to the following year. Then in mid-March Eurovision 2020 had to cancel because of the pandemic. That was just after all 41 competing nations had already submitted their entries and songs.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the 2020 Eurovision Song Contest in Rotterdam.

With no Song Contest happening and it being hugely complicated, if not impossible, for people to meet up, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) decided to have all the entered songs recognized for the participation. There would still be a set of Eurovision shows during the days the Song Contest was originally intended to take place. The Tuesday and the Thursday which were originally supposed to have the semi-finals contested had the Eurovision Song Celebration which paid tribute to the songs and performers of that year and during what was to be their respective semi-final performance. Even before the Song Celebration, the Eurovision Youtube channel had the artists of 2020 perform ‘home concerts’ to keep people’s spirits up.

On the Saturday that was to have the Grand Final held, May 16, 2020, there was Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light. It was a two-hour show which paid tribute to the 41 songs and performers who were to be participating that year. A piece of the video of their song was played followed by a message of well-wishes during this pandemic from the respective entered act remotely from their home country. The show was held with a central location of Studio 21 in Hilversum instead of an arena. Past Eurovision entries gave their wishes to all during this time. There were additional performances from past Eurovision entries singing past Eurovision songs with encouraging messages like ‘Ein Bisschen Frieden,’ ‘Molitva,’ and ‘What’s Another Year.‘ Italian entry Diodato performed ‘Volare‘ live from Milan as well as showcased his song ‘Fai Rumore‘ from an empty arena in Verona. Singers of the two most recent winning songs, Israel’s Netta and the Netherlands’ Duncan Laurence, performed original songs about the frustration of loneliness one receives during the time we all have to isolate ourselves to prevent contagion. Israel’s Gali Atari performed her 1979 winning song ‘Hallelujah‘ with Dutch Junior Eurovision contestants and Junior Songfestival entries from past years. It was done as a Zoom-style ensemble. The show ended with all the 41 contestants singing a piece of the 1997 winning song ‘Love Shine A Light‘ with the song ending with all of them singing together as a Zoom-style choir with Katrina Leskanich, formerly of Katrina and the Waves, to sing the last part.

There were also two noteworthy announcements that happened during the show. The first announcement came during the part when they were with the 2019 Junior Eurovision winner Viki Gabor from Poland. From her home in Poland, she announced that the Junior Eurovision Song Contest will be taking place in Warsaw on November 29, 2020. The second announcement came from the hosts of Europe Shine A Light. It was announced that the Eurovision Song Contest will be taking place in May 2021 in Rotterdam.

CONSIDERING OPTIONS FOR EUROVISION 2021

The announcements of a Junior Eurovision in six months time and a Eurovision in a year’s time seemed like far-fetched things at the time. Nobody knew what the pandemic would be like over time. Rates were increasing at frightening rates, people were still in lockdowns and a vaccine of any kind had not been discovered. Nevertheless it was something still worth pursuing. Twelve months since the ill-fated 2020 Contest is enough time for the pandemic to either subside or for preventative measures like vaccinations to be in effect. Countries were already announcing their intention to compete in 2021. Many even announced their intended 2020 entry would be their performer for 2021. However staging the Contest would be difficult. Possible, but difficult. The EBU had four scenarios to deal with. Each of the scenarios would involve the holding of shows, presence or non-presence of performers, number of spectators, side events and the media press:

  • Scenario A (normal): This would almost be as if the pandemic never happened. All shows from Ahoy Arena, all the participants in Rotterdam to perform, arena filled to 100% capacity, side events happening throughout Rotterdam the Press Centre would have all 1,500 anticipated press people on site.
  • Scenario B (1.5 metre social distancing): All shows would be from Ahoy, but only performers who are COVID-negative could perform on stage. Since there would still be no guarantee that the performers would all be COVID-negative on the day of the show, they would all do taped back-up performances that would act as their Contest submission in case. Those whose country was still under lockdown because of travel restrictions could have a taped performance recorded by their network. Arena audience could be anywhere from 0% to 80%, side-events would have to be adapted virtually, and the 1500 press people would be limited to 500 on site and 1000 virtually.
  • Scenario C (Travel-restrictive): All shows would still be from Ahoy and the arena would still have a capacity of spectators anywhere from 0 to 80%, but participants would all do their performances in their home country. There would still be adapted side performances, but greatly reduced and all 1,500 press people would conduct interview questions virtually.
  • Scenario D (lockdown): Even with a lockdown mode, there would still be a show from Ahoy arena as there was a show from a studio during 2020’s lockdown in the Netherlands as well as most of Europe. The arena however would only be empty of spectators, consisting only of show and network personnel. There would be no side-events, performers would do their performance in their home country and again all 1,500 press people would conduct interview questions virtually.

JUNIOR EUROVISION 2020: THE FIRST TEST EVENT

Six months in between the intended Eurovision Song Contest 2020 and the Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2020 was enough time to get a good sense of how to conduct business and events during the pandemic. The 2020 Eurovision Contest couldn’t be held because everything happened all of a sudden and it was too sudden to plan an alternate for holding a Contest. However the EBU was well-aware statistics and restrictions would change by the time Junior Eurovision, the song contest for performers aged 9 to 14, would come around on November 29, 2020. Some would be for the better, some worse. It was decided that the Junior Eurovision would be held in a situation close to that of Scenario D. I will get to the specifics in the next three paragraphs.

The 2020 Junior Eurovision Song Contest held in November that year was a trial of Eurovision Scenario D consisting strictly of studio performances.

Over time, seven nations that competed at the 2019 JESC such as Australia, Italy, North Macedonia, Ireland and Portugal would not participate because of the COVID situations in their country. Armenia intended to compete, but the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that happened a month before Junior Eurovision was about to start led to their withdrawal. In the end, twelve countries, the lowest since 2013, chose to compete. Germany was one country that would make their Junior Eurovision debut. The Contest organizers were sensitive to the pandemic and announced that the Contest would be restricted to studio performances. They gave two options where the performers could do their performances in Warsaw in the studio of the host network TVP (Telewisja Polska) or in the studio of their respective nation’s network. I believe it was a case of three performances could be done and the best of the three was chosen as the performance for the competition. Only performers from four nations — Poland, Malta, Ukraine and Serbia — were willing to do their performances in Warsaw. Performers form the other eight countries stuck to doing their performances in the studio of their respective nation’s network. Also performances and parts from the Common Song — a song performed by each nation’s singing entries as an ensemble onstage — had to be recorded from whichever studio they performed at beforehand.

Junior Eurovision 2020 was finally held on November 29 inside the TVP headquarters in Warsaw. There was an audience but it was restricted to network organizers and their families. The show began with a performance from last year’s winner Viki Gabor performing her winning song from that year: ‘Superheroes.’ Back-up dancers were present during the performance. For the remainder of the show, the chosen performances from the studios were the competitive performances the juries judged on and the home audiences would vote for online. Instead of the Green Room where the competing performers would normally sit, drink and mingle in, the performers and their assistants were in a special room in their respective network studio. It was also live broadcast from the room where interviews were conducted and their reactions to the scoring would take place.

For the Interval Acts after all the competitive performances were shown and viewers voted, the Common Song was shown as if all the performers gathered together as one. It was actually created through hologram technology. Another hologram performance was the performance of the 2019 Eurovision-winning song ‘Arcade’ by winner Duncan Laurence and Poland’s two Junior Eurovision winners Viki Gabor and Roksana Wegiel. Viki and Roksana performed together, but Laurence’s part was done in an NPO Zapp studio in the Netherlands. The winning song — “J’Imagine” by singer Valentina from France — was a song whose submitted performance was taped one month earlier in a France 2 studio in Paris. There was not the usual Winner’s Reprise where the act of the winning song traditionally goes back on stage, accepts the award and gives and encore performance of their winning song. Instead Valentina and her team celebrated in the France 2 studio and a replay of the submitted competitive performance was done instead of the Winner’s Reprise.

EUROVISION 2021 PLANNING

In all honesty, that year’s Junior Eurovision did feel like a constricted event with all the performers limited to taped performances in a studio, hologram performances of most interval acts, and studio rooms instead of a green room. It didn’t have the same look and feel as if the performers were performing in from of a live audience full of excitement or the same celebratory feel of the performers all getting together in the Green Room having their post-performance fun. What it did do is that it showed that a Eurovision contest was possible. It would be very limited but very possible. Also on an optimistic note, that year’s Junior Eurovision’s online voting had the most online votes totalling 4,500,000! That showed the pandemic can’t stop the Eurovision excitement. For the organizers of Eurovision 2021, this Contest served as an example on how to do a Eurovision if it does come down to a Scenario D situation. Of course they would want to do the Contest with a bigger stage, as many performances on that stage as possible, and with a live audience full of excitement. It would be dependent on time and the situation involving the pandemic as they got closer and closer to Contest time. This would be dependent on statistics of numbers of cases, possible other COVID variants and their effects, the potential for vaccines to be distributed, the efficiency of testing, and the latest studies in COVID prevention.

As time passed, it was announced all 41 nations that entered in the 2020 Contest intended to participate in the 2021 Contest. Many nations intended to enter their entry from 2020 into the 2021, but a new song had to be created in order to keep within the rules. Some nations stuck to having their usual national contests to have the performer and song selected, but said their respective 2020 entry can participate without having to audition. As for the pandemic, there would be a lot of changes over time in terms of the pandemic. The statistics would yield differing results, but vaccinations would also begin to take place en masse in the countries and many travel restrictions would be lifted. This would allow for the ability for performers to travel to the Netherlands to perform and even foreign visitors to come. The one thing the vaccinations and eased restrictions did not do over the time is decrease the potential contagion of COVID significantly nor the disease’s effects on those that caught it. The organizers in the end decided to do the Contest via Scenario B. There would be live performances for all six live rehearsals and three live shows, and the Dutch Cabinet approved a live performance one month before the Contest. Concert crowds would be a limited number and there would be no spectators standing on the arena floor level. More details on the concert crowds in the Handling Of Ticket Holders section. Side events would be impacted such as the ‘Turquoise Carpet’ being the only in-person side-event to take place normally, the Opening Ceremony not held, the Eurovision Village to be held only as an online event and the EuroClub cancelled completely.

The 2021 Eurovision Song Contest was allowed to take place in Rotterdam’s Ahoy arena with spectators. The event was under strict preventative regulations for performers and spectators alike.

Safety Measures For Performers

None of the nations from 2020 that intended to compete in 2021 cancelled out because of COVID-related reasons, but two nations did withdraw. Armenia withdrew because of political unrest from after the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Belarus withdrew because their entry for this year had a political message, which is against the EBU rules for the Contest, and would not submit a replacement song. Thirty-nine nations did compete in the Contest. Twenty-six of those nations had the act that was intended for the 2020 Contest as their entry for 2021.

The COVID pandemic was just as real of a threat in the performers’ home countries as it was if they were in Rotterdam. The EBU knew this. They were still aiming for live performances for rehearsals, jury performances and live Contest performances. They still wanted to make sure the performers didn’t endanger themselves or others. In addition, not all travel restrictions had been lifted for the participating countries. The EBU gave the entries the obligation to record back-up performances on video for in case they could not perform their song live on stage whether it be the semifinal, final, or even rehearsals because of travel restrictions. Rules for back-up performances were the artists were each given an hour and during that hour, they were allowed to give three performances of their song. At the end of taping, the delegation would decide which one of the three performances they were most satisfied of. The choice would be the entry’s official back-up submission.

There was also the possibility that some performers would test negative while in their home country, but end up testing positive or being a high-risk group any time while they were in Rotterdam. It could happen anytime, whether it be after the first rehearsal, but before the jury performance or even the live performances. Performers had the option to use their best rehearsal performance or even a jury performance, whichever they were happiest with, as their back-up performance for the Contest. There could even be stand-ins for the rehearsals should one test positive and have to sit the rehearsals or performances out. There were times when these regulations for this year’s Contest were very helpful for all thirty-nine to have a performance worthy of submission for the Contest:

  • Australia was still unter travel restrictions. Montaigne could not travel to Rotterdam to do her performance of her song ‘Technicolor‘ so the chosen back-up performance acted as the entered song. Audiences both in the arena and through television would see the performance on the LED.
  • Kateryna Pavlenko, lead singer of the Ukrainian band Go_A, reported feeling ill before the performance of their song ‘Shum’ for the second rehearsal just before the first semifinal. Rules were that anyone reporting feeling ill before performing no matter what had to miss because of a precaution. All other band members tested negative for COVID-19. The band continued with their performance as a Dutch singer, Emmie van Stijn, acted as the stand-in. Pavlenko soon after took a COVID test and the results were negative. Pavlenko was able to continue performing for the remainder of the competition. The band was so impressed with van Stijn’s singing and diction of the Ukrainian language, they had her sit with them in the Green Room during the semifinal as a thank-you!
  • All six members of the Icelandic entry Daði og Gagnamagnið were COVID-negative when they arrived in Rotterdam. Their performance of their song ’10 Years’ went as normal during the first and second rehearsals. However one of the members tested positive for COVID. They had a rule that they would all perform as a band on the Eurovision stage. They opted to miss out from further performances. Their performance from the second rehearsal was their chosen submission for the jury performances and live shows.
  • 2019 winner Duncan Laurence was slated to reprise his winning song ‘Arcade‘ and perform his new song ‘Stars‘ as part of the interval act of the Grand Final. Laurence opened the first semifinal with the song ‘Feel Something,’ but tested positive for COVID shortly after. Duncan had to miss performing live in the Grand Final, but he did deliver a message of well-wishes on the LED screen and pre-recorded performances of ‘Arcade‘ and ‘Stars‘ were used instead.

Handling Of Ticket Holders And Rapid Testing

It was decided by Dutch Parliament in less than three weeks before the start of the Contest that the event would be open to spectators. Organizers set the limit to the number of performances accessible to public audiences to be nine: all jury shows, family shows and live shows of the two semi-finals and Grand Final. The number of spectators per show was set to a limit of 3,500. Now I know a lot of people would be freaking out over live crowds occurring during a pandemic, but there were rules and regulations regarding spectators for the Contest. In fact the Contest was a pilot event event under FieldLab Concerts. Rules included:

Ticket holders had to personalize their tickets, undergo COVID tests within the day of their event, and show up at the Ahoy entrance during their allotted time-slot.
  • High-risk groups as defined by the Netherlands’ National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (such as those 70 years or older) cannot purchase tickets.
  • Those attending the events couldn’t just simply purchase tickets. All sold tickets had to be personalized and registered. Meaning only the specific person is allowed to use the ticket. There are to be no ticket exchanges. Part of the personalization includes ticketholders to download the Close app and CoronaCheck app.
  • Just after purchasing the ticket, the Eurovision Contest Shop will bring ticketholders to a webpage to personalize the tickets. The ticket will be accessible for the Close app.
  • Ticketholders will need to take COVID tests the day of the ticketed event. Maximum 24 hours before the event’s anticipated end. Showing a card that confirms COVID vaccination is not enough. Appointments for COVID testing would have to be made through the Dutch ‘Testen Voor Toegang’ website which assists in setting appointments for rapid COVID testing throughout the Netherlands. Even attendees coming from other countries will have to be tested in the Netherlands. Test results can be made available as soon as an hour after they’re taken. Tests done through Testen Voor Toegang appointments are the only valid COVID tests for the Contest.
  • Results of the COVID test will be made available through the CoronaCheck app. Those that test negative are allowed to attend their ticketed event. Those that test positive are not allowed and they do not receive a refund.
  • All spectators who test negative can’t simply arrive at the Ahoy Arena anytime. In their Close app, they are given an entrance time-slot for them to show up at the entrance to their ticketed event and do their airport-style security check.
  • At their entrance, they are required to show both their ticket and their negative COVID test result in order to be admitted.
  • As far as face masks go, attendees are allowed to take off their face masks when they’re inside the actual arena seating. Spectators are allowed to eat and drink inside the arena seating.
  • Spectators will have to put their face masks back on once they leave the arena seating area. That includes in areas of the Ahoy Arena such as concession lobbies or the washrooms. Arena seating is the only mask-free area for Contest spectators.
  • Once spectators are outside the Ahoy Arena building, all mask-wearing regulations made by the Dutch government apply.

Also worth taking note is that all spectators had to be in seated areas. In fact the Green Room took up the whole arena floor area outside of the stage to ensure no spectators on floor level and the performers’ own social distancing. This is arguably the first big event with large spectators to be held during the pandemic so it’s obvious strict regulations would be required. Since the Contest has been completed, there has been no news of massive positive tests from spectator attendance. It so far has proven to be an excellent success, if not a flawless success, that a concert can still take place during the latter period of a pandemic and make progress to more back-to-live performances. Even spokespeople throughout the Contest were speaking their delight and approval of the Contest getting back to live performances and celebrative spirits. Also for those who want to know who the winner is, but don’t know, it’s Italy’s glam-rock band Måneskin who won with the song ‘Zitti e Buoni.’

This year’s Eurovision Song Cotest proved that live performances with spectators can happen during a time of a pandemic. Measures in terms of ticket holders and performers had to be strict and within government regulations, but it all turned out to be successful in the end.

WORKS CITED

WIKIPEDIA: Eurovision Song Contest 2020. Wikipedia.com. 2021. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurovision_Song_Contest_2020>
WIKIPEDIA: Eurovision: Europe Shine A Light. Wikipedia.com. 2021. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurovision:_Europe_Shine_a_Light>
WIKIPEDIA: Junior Eurovision Song Contest 2020. Wikipedia.com. 2021. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junior_Eurovision_Song_Contest_2020>
WIKIPEDIA: Eurovision Song Contest 2021. Wikipedia.com. 2021. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eurovision_Song_Contest_2021>
Tickets For Eurovision. EBU 2002-2021. Website by SCRN. <https://eurovision.tv/tickets>

VIFF 2020 Review: Reel Youth Film Festival

Has it been five years since I last saw the Reel Youth Film Festival? It’s been a long time. Nevertheless having VIFF online gave me the chance to see it again.

This year’s films were a mix of films that looked like they were done by youth and films that were obviously directed by 20+. Some looked very professionally done while some make the amateurishness obvious. All of them did have themes and messages that appeared to be directed to the youth or would be of youth interest.

This year, there were eighteen films. There were five Canadian films, but only two local. Film entries for this year came from the United States, Brazil, India, Bulgaria, Spain, Australia, Romania, China, Ethiopia, Switzerland, Iraq and the UK. Films were a mix of animation, documentary to live-action fiction. They ranged from drama to comedy to informative.

Topics were of a wide range. Even with this pandemic, there was one Canadian film by a teen girl about the struggles of physical isolation and only being able to reach out through a computer. There was another from India of a woman using her creativity to work from home. There were other themes of focus like breaking social barriers, generation gaps, regaining silence in a world full of noise, choices that can change one’s life, a future of pollution, overcoming loneliness with your passion, dealing with post-war trauma, and dealing with autism. There were also some light-hearted films like an animated film about monkeys and baby aliens.

The two themes that most stood out among the short films were themes involving racism and racial identity, and sexuality. With racism being a hot topic in 2020, the Fest didn’t stray away from it this year. One film was about a black girl admitted into an all-white private school and made to feel inferior. Another is of a Mexican-American girl and how she deals with the identity of herself and her people at a time with calls of ‘build the wall’ from Trump and his supporters. There were two films of Inuit people. One was of an elder from Nunavut who passes down to the younger generation hunting skills, cultural traditions and the language. Another film focuses on Inuit youth and what culture means to them. The film ends with them doing traditional throat singing.

As for films about sexuality, there were three. One was a documentary about a Vancouver drag performer who performs by the rule “Don’t do drag for free.” Another was a drama of a girl from China returning home after her grandmother’s death; a grandmother who rejected her after she spoke of her orientation. The third was a comedy about a girl who never had a first kiss from a boy. She realizes she’s a lesbian and gets her first kiss from a girl during the first snowfall.

They again had the ballot for the three favorite films of this year. This year’s ballot was completely online. I had lots of problems trying to access the online ballot. So it looks like I will have to post the picks of my Top 3 here:

  1. Monochrome – The story of Essence, a 17 year-old girl who’s the only black student in an all-white private school. The teens and students don’t hesitate to make her feel like a misfit. She feels like the only way to fit in is to assimilate herself. It’s a very powerful message about the racism we don’t always notice.
  2. Little Swallow Coming Home – A Chinese film about a young girl who returns home after her grandmother died. The memories of how her grandmother rejected her when she came out as a lesbian flood her mind and make her nervous. Then she notices a photo with a message from her grandmother saying she always loved her. It’s a reminder that LGBT struggles are universal. Not just at home.
  3. Dayo – A man named Dayo is lonely at home. But when he walks into the kitchen, he’s an artist and beloved for his culinary confections by the customers and his co-workers. It’s a brief three-minute animated film, but it packs in the charm in its time.

This year’s Reel Youth Film Festival didn’t offer too much in terms of local film. Nevertheless the Festival was very good at providing a wide variety of films from around the world with common themes relating to young people.

VIFF 2020 Does It Online

Most of VIFF’s films will be viewed online.

This has been an unusual year. A pandemic has led to the cancellation of various events or had them be conducted under strict limits. The Olympic Games and Euro 2020 were cancelled but league sports continue in spectatorless stadiums. Movie theatres started the pandemic closed off and then to limited attendance with precautions. Most film festivals have had to resort to doing their events online. This is what the Vancouver International Film Festival will be doing this year.

The Show Must Go On

Looking to other film festivals as to how they decided to do their festival during the pandemic, the VIFF has seen how to make a film festival work during the pandemic. The TIFF in Toronto was a strong indicator as it too had most of their films for viewing online with a select few films for viewing in cinema. For those that were to view films in cinema, they had to have face coverings. It was mandatory.

I’m sure that will be the case in the Vancity Theatre and the Cinematheque as well as any hall where there will be lectures. Eighteen of the estimated 95 films of the VIFF will be shown in theatres. All films including those with a theatre showing can be viewed online. Tickets are $9 each. However it’s the VIFF Connect passes that are the best deal. They consist of:

  • VIFF Connect Festival Subscription: can view any online film once, can watch any bonus features, and can take part in any online Creator Talk. Membership is included in the subscription. Price: $60 ($30 for full-time students)
  • VIFF Connect GOLD Subscription: All the features of the Festival subscription plus access to specially-curated online content during the festival, a free annual year-round suscription to VIFF Connect and a free VIFF+ Gold membership that’s valid for a full year. Price: $95

It’s not just film happening with VIFF. There are talks and lectures this year too focusing on the craft of filmmaking and film music. For this year there will be:

  • VIFF Talks and Masterclasses: For this year’s VIFF talks, there will be documentarians, animators, HBO cinematographers, creators of comedy series, actors, production designers and even Charlie Kaufman. Some of the events will focus on the craft of writing, storytelling and cinematography. Others will talk about the issues surrounding the stories of the films or documentaries they created. There’s another Meet The Showrunners event this year where the focus is on diversity as well as a special talk about increasing diversity and inclusion in the film industry. Some events are live-streamed while others are pre-recorded. Check the VIFF website for more details.
  • VIFF Amp: Again the focus is on music in film. It will consist of three straight days of lectures opening with a lecture from jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard. Topics of focus for this year are music in animation, music supervision, song placement and sync licensing, marketing music to filmmakers, composition and production. AMP Passes are $45.
  • VIFF Immersed: Modern technology meets filmmaking and storytelling in this selection of lectures. The lectures will range from dealing with new technologies and new directions as well as focus on the more artistic focuses of film including a special focus on Indigenous XR creation. There’s even a flashback to 2019’s Immersed sessions.
  • VIFF Totally Indie Day: September 26th is the day and it all starts at 10am! Three films in focus will be a documentary, semi-documentary and a live-action film. All films will have a Q&A with the creators. In addition, there will be a special Q&A session with independent filmmakers and how they managed to proceed with filmwork despite the setback of the COVID pandemic. Day Pass is $45/$30 for Students.

Of course the big focus is on the films. Usually I’d have a guidebook to tell you most of the highlighted films. However I’m not so lucky this year. I will pick eight I think will stand out:

  • Monkey Beach – Based on the novel by Eden Robinson and directed by Loretta Sara Todd, this story is about a young Haisla girl who possesses a supernatural gift that is as much of a curse as it is a blessing.
  • There Is No Evil – This film by Iranian filmmaker Mohamad Rasoulof won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Banned from filmmaking for life, this film focusses on life in a repressive regime with special focus on the death penalty.
  • Inconvenient Indian – This docudrama from Michelle Latimer won the People’s Choice Documentary Award at the TIFF. The film promises to be more about giving an expression about being Indigenous rather than telling a story.
  • The Curse Of Willow Song – directed by Karen Lam, this looks like a film for Altered States. It’s the story of a young female arsonist just released from prison. Trying to make her way back in the world, she receives supernatural forces from a spirit of the past.
  • Falling – Viggo Mortensen stars and directs in this film about a son taking in his cantankerous father after learning he has dementia. He tries to make peace with his father and the family but it’s a challenge that may prove too hard.
  • The Father – Another story about a father with dementia. This time the director is Florian Zeller (adaptation of his own stage play) and the father is played by Anthony Hopkins and the daughter by Olivia Colman.
  • Ammonite – This stars Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan and is directed by Francis Lee. Set in 1840’s England, a female paleontologist tends to an unhappy young bride of privilege class. A bond soon comes and then grows into something much more.
  • Time – African-American injustice has been a hot topic this year. This documentary by Garrett Bradley focuses on a woman and her struggle to keep her family together as she challenges the justice system over their dealing with her husband sentenced for 60 years for armed robbery.

Those eight films are just a small sample of what to expect at the VIFF this year. The festival is fourteen days instead of the usual sixteen and runs September 24th to October 7th. I’ll be doing a lot of watching from my computer but I hope to have a chance to see at least one in a theatre. Don’t worry. I have my own mask!

Life During COVID-19: One Month Later

Physical Distancing

Until the number of new cases drops considerably, physical distancing is the new norm.

COVID-19 still affects our daily lives. However some may not have the same effects they had like say just a month ago. Some things are starting to open up more, but some still remain closed. Even those that have opened up have set restrictions and limits. I will highlight in this blog how much has changed since my first COVID-19 blog.

Reopenings, But With Restrictions

I don’t know how soon we’ll ever get back to normal; the ‘normal’ we had before this pandemic hit. One thing I know is it won’t be anytime soon. Keep in mind that reopening of indoor things and places will be done in phases. I’m sure phases will be based on the maximum capacity allowable with the given square-footage. Statistics of new COVID infections and active infections will also play a factor geographically.

Restaurants are starting to open up more. Even during the worst of the pandemic, restaurants that could offer delivery service still functioned. There were even two walk-in places — a local fast-food place and a Domino’s Pizza outlet — that were open for people to walk in and order. Both times I placed my order, I was told to stand outside to wait for my food to be ready. I didn’t mind because this is a pandemic. However lately restaurants have started to allow people to dine at, if not dine in. When I mean ‘dine at,’ I mean the patio areas of restaurants are set up and open for customers to dine. Outdoors has a way-lower rate of contagion. The restaurants that could allow dining inside had to have a big capacity and I’m sure they had to limit the number of dine-in patrons.

Most stores that were open from mid-March to the end of May did so with the number of people in at one time. However there were some popular stores in Canada that were closed completely during Phase One of the pandemic like Best Buy, Winners and Ikea. Winners reopened, but there was a maximum number of people allowed for a long time. I remember on the day of reopening, I had to stand in a lengthy line and it took fifteen minutes. The maximum allowable was 75 at once.

Ikea Lineup

I had to wait 30 minutes in line to get into an Ikea.

When Ikea reopened at the beginning of June, it came at the right time as I was planning to put up new curtains. I went on a Sunday 14 days after it reopened to purchase a curtain rod. When I arrived at 4pm, there were gates to mark the line-up where people could stand in line and where to be separate. It wasn’t just on one side. They had that line-up but the opposite side too. That was annoying since the line I was in was lengthy enough. Funny thing is there’s a third line-up area if the line-up gets even longer! Anyways theirs was a situation where there was a maximum and they could only let in ten at a time just after ten were seen exiting. That left me waiting in line for around thirty minutes! Also don’t ask about the returns line-up. I had to wait an hour to return something small!

Medical offices started to reopen at the beginning of June. The only medical office I could enter during the big closings was the blood clinic for donation. Even then, they had to limit the number of donors at once and it was strictly by appointment. Booking appointments were hard as availability could be anywhere from one day three weeks from now to the other option which would be two weeks later. Once I was able to donate, they still had to take my temperature from a distance and have me wear a face mask.

At least they allowed me in. When I had a really painful ordeal with gout in May, I didn’t walk to the drop-in clinic 300m away. I limped there! Only to learn the doors are locked and can only take over the phone. Even when I called, they still had to book an appointment with the drop-in doctor for me and they had to call me at that time. That’s the way it was with a lot of doctors’ offices during Phase One of the pandemic. It had to be either strictly phone appointments or they had to use their smartphone to send images or videotapes of the problem. Mine was strictly a phone call with the doctor. She did forward the prescription to the pharmacy. You can imagine my relief once I got the pills!

They may be a day late and strictly phone only, but it was way timelier than my dental ordeal. My tooth broke in the middle of May. I called up the emergency line and left a message. The dentist then called back and said they can’t work on it until the dental offices open up again. They didn’t open until June 1st. The problem was annoying because the tooth would scrape against my tongue. It was that annoying. You can imagine how relieved I was for my appointment. But even then, I was warned that there was the chance of catching COVID. I had four questions to answer before I could be done. All had to be the No answer. I also had to get my temperature checked from a distance. Then I could get my tooth done.

Reopening With Regulations

Church questionairre

To be among the maximum 50 to attend service at my church, you need to let the priest know and answer a questionnaire before you can enter.

Some places have reopened with set limits. Firstly churches are limited in terms of capacity. My own church has two services on Sunday. Anyone who wants to attend has to let the priest know by the day before because there is a maximum of 50 people allowed in the church building and parking lot at one time. Even after you let them know and he says it’s good to come in, there’s still four yes/no questions to answer about your health. Only if you answer no to all four are you fine to enter the church for mass. For those that can’t attend mass, they can view it on the Facebook page or the YouTube channel just like we all did at the start of the pandemic. In addition, the summer used to be a case where there would be a single mass in both languages. Possibly because of the pandemic and to keep as many people from being left out, the two separate masses in English and Ukrainian will continue.

COVID hair

My COVID hair: four months in the making!

Secondly, it’s not just churches that are reopening with regulations. Barbershops and hair salons reopened at the start of June too. Yeah, we’ve all heard the term ‘COVID hair’ or ‘Corona hair.’ That’s what happens when the hair salons all close. You either have one of your family members cut your hair (One you can trust, I hope!) or you wait. I waited and boy was my hair long and hard to control. After the long wait, I finally got my hair cut in the second Friday of June.

The barbershop I often go to reopened. A lot changed. The barber wears a face mask, clients have to wear a face mask too, and he has to clean and sanitize the seats after every person he works on. On top of it, the price is raised an extra $5 to deal with the new methods of sanitizing.

Barber

To get my hair cut, my barber demands you wear a face mask, like most hair salons demand now.

I have no problem with paying the extra money. I was sensing there would be something like this. The news weeks earlier talked about reopening but charging a ‘COVID tax.’

Libraries closed during the pandemic. I remember well because I was to attend an info session on cryptocurrency in the middle of March. The session was cancelled because the library had to close. Any books to be taken out or viewed had to be online books. Libraries reopened during the last week of May, but it was limited to book pick-up at the entrance. I went to pay an overdue fine but they are not taking it right now. I’m sure even if the library building does open to the public again, there will be a limit on the number of people who can enter and it will be months before the internet computers for public use will be allowed to be used again.

Open But Still Closed Enough

White Rock beach

On my last visit to White Rock beach, not as many people on the beach in many areas.

Over time, playgrounds would slowly start to open up for children to play. Swings, spinning wheels and slides are now back and active again. Many natural tourist attractions and natural parks have been reopened. However there are still some closures. I noticed when I went to White Rock a month ago. White Rock is known for having a long beach and many walk-in food huts mostly for ice cream and fish and ships. It also has a lot of dine-in restaurants. At that time, most dine-in places weren’t open. I don’t think many could allow for dining in with that little of space. The small huts for ice cream and fish and chips were good, but there had to be distances in the line-ups. I was able to get an ice cream. For parking, half of the lots were closed off. For beach access, most of the walk-on access was gated and there were limited ways to enter for most of the beach. Also the White Rock Pier was completely closed off due to the pandemic. It’s a narrow pier of eight feet of distance so you can understand.

White Rock Pier

The White Rock Pier is closed off because of the pandemic.

You remember how in my original COVID blog I talked about cancellations of events? That’s the same thing with July 1st which is Canada Day. Usually there would be parties and picnics and fireworks blown off. This was not the case this year. Instead there were ‘virtual’ Canada Day events for people to do online. There were fireworks shows but they all had to be livestreamed. If there were any fireworks shows for us to visit, they would have to be private. Also any Canada Day picnics would have to be private get-togethers. What can I say? When a pandemic happens, that’s all you can do.

My Own Daily Life

As many of you know, I was put on a leave of absence from my job back in April. It will end this Monday. That makes it a good three months in which I’ve been away from my job. During the time, I’ve kept in contact with my supervisor from my job. She likes to keep in touch. We had two socially-distant get-togethers. I had occasional get-togethers with my cousin. We had to be distant each time. I also had coffee with another cousin. Each time we all had to sit eight feet away. Getting together is possible as long as you’re distant.

A lot of places I like to go to, like libraries and dine-in restaurants, have mostly been closed or delivery only. I only dined out at one place: on Canada Day. Even with dining allowed in the patio, there were chair placements and table separations due to COVID restrictions including the maximum of two at a table. There were also restrictions in the indoor dining room. Whenever I go shopping or for any other errand, I still wear my gloves. Wearing a mask depends on the situation. If it’s a crowded place or there’s a noticeably big amount of people, of course I’ll put it on.

Buses started resuming regular service on June 1st and back to fare paid. I remember going on a bus trip from Surrey to White Rock. It wasn’t packed to standing room only, but all the seats filled up. This was one of those cases I’d put on my face mask. Especially since there was a shady-looking man who sat near me and made a phone call about drugs. I was hoping he’d get off the bus soon. I did get off five minutes after he did. Nevertheless, it becomes nervous when a person with a shady personality is close to you. I’ve seen some shady types who appear like they don’t care if there’s a pandemic or not.

Looking Ahead

Re-openings and lifting of restrictions happen in phases, and the phases are reliant on statistics. I’m sure no matter where you are in the world you are, the COVID-related restrictions that have happened relate to the deceleration of the frequency of new COVID cases and decline of active cases and will continue to do so as numbers change. There are some places where because of the numbers not being reduced, COVID restrictions remain unchanged. There are even some places like Brazil that have just recently experienced their own COVID ordeal.

Canada is lucky that the numbers of new COVID cases are declining. We did have some increases over the past week, but they are not as big as the new-case statistics of April and May. There were provinces that were hit hard and still have an impact. In BC and Manitoba where my parents live, the COVID cases were not the hugest of impact and experienced excellent rates of decline. That allowed for better phased openings.

I know I talked about being away from my job. During that time, I made some good use out of it. Actually I was lazy the first week. I felt I owed it to myself for working a lot of hours in my life. Just to wake up without an alarm and do whatever I want for a full week. I didn’t sleep in as much as I hoped. It’s hard to sleep in a place with no air conditioning. Nevertheless during the time, I used it as chances to visit as many outdoor places I’ve never seen before or outdoor places I enjoy going to. It worked out great. I added some new photos on Google Maps.

When people are laid off from their jobs during the pandemic, people do a lot of various things with their time. Some did baking, some spent more time with their family, some even resorted to indoor workouts. I did a wide variety of things. Online, I did some teleconferencing with people from a home business I recently took an interested in. I will be taking an online course on mutual funds in two weeks. I was ‘late to the ball’ for other teleconferencing. I received emails from ARMA (Association of Records Management and Administration) about info sessions on Zoom. I only started seeing them in June. Basically the biggest thing I did was apartment repairs. Over the years I left a lot undone. With all this free time, I finally had the chance to do it. I accomplished a lot. Of course there’s more I’d like to do, but I’ll see if I still have the drive, and the money to buy the stuff.

As for entertainment, you could tell with so many cancellations, television and YouTube replayed a lot of classic events. The NFL channel did a lot of virtual games, NBA replayed a lot of great moments and did stats, UEFA did a lot of ‘virtual’ Euro games, and FIFA has #WorldCupAtHome where they replay a lot of great past World Cup games. Right now is World Cup 1990. Even entertainment channels are replaying a lot of past shows. The Eurovision channel has #EurovisionAgain where they replay a Grand Final of the past, get people to vote for their favorites, and have a charity at the end to donate to. All of which remind you if you’re confined inside, you don’t have to compromise fun. Also during this time I’ve become a big fan of the show Ridiculousness. It’s become my new ‘guilty pleasure’ show!

The good news is my leave of absence will end as of Monday. Work at my full-time place has slowly but surely become busier and busier over time. I look forward to starting again. My work computer has been sitting in a box for three months! They say laziness is addictive. I hope that doesn’t happen to me. I hope I can readjust fine. I’m sure it will start as mostly working at home with the possible odd day or two working from the office. I’m sure any place that does have office work will have to have a lot of restrictions and precautions to protect people or they will be fined. Inaddition, I was told that I will be having some new duties to take care of. I’m willing to change or learn new duties, as long as I learn at a pace I can handle. Also you remember I told you about the CERB payments in my last blog? I received two such payments. I’m glad I don’t have to apply for more. Actually if you apply for CERB and you are actively involved, you can be charged criminally. I was reminded right when I applied for my first of the conditions required to eligible and that making a false claim can be subject to criminal penalty. I also heard from one person that with CERB, you will have to pay 20% of it back come next tax time. I have the money in savings set aside in case.

Winners shelves

One clothing mega-store is half-full of merchandise. Shortages will be common for months due to the lack of shipped goods.

At least I’m working again. If there’s one thing this pandemic has taught me, it’s that there’s no guarantee of work back. The pandemic has left a lot of uncertainty behind. A lot of small businesses and a lot of big businesses have had to either file bankruptcy or also completely close. Many have reopened, but it’s a question about how hard did the pandemic hit their business? Will they be able to continue? We’ve seen ads encouraging people to support small businesses. I have mostly shopped at small businesses that I’m familiar with. I hope they stay strong. Even big businesses will have problems as they may get less shipments of items customers demand. I recently went to a major clothing store near where I lived. The aisles and racks are normally loaded, but they weren’t that time. I talked with one of the cashiers and she said that incoming merchandise is less frequent. It used to be daily but not anymore. Something like furniture to sell comes in every week or two. I’m sure that business isn’t the only big business experiencing this. This economic recovery won’t be easy. I think every nation got hit hard.

Cancellation of events still continue, even locally. The fireworks festival of Celebration Of Light that’s held in late-July is cancelled. The Concours d’Elegance classic car show I like to see just before Labor Day is cancelled for the year. My retreat to Palm Springs in August is cancelled. Makes sense because of big-time travel restrictions. The Vancouver Film Festival, or VIFF, will continue but it will be completely virtual with the films they will be showing. I’m going to miss volunteering this year, but I will support the online VIFF.

Since I’m talking about VIFF, there’s a lot of talk about the arts suffering because of the pandemic. It’s easy to see with a lot of planned shows being cancelled and a lot of schools or training centres having to rehearse or work online. That’s become the new norm. Even the choir I sing for had to cancel out its show for June. We did rehearsals via Zoom every Wednesday evening starting in March in hopes of doing a show. When it became obvious a show wouldn’t be possible, our rehearsals became sing-alongs with our favorite songs over the years. My situation with the choir may be minor compared to the more organized arts companies, but this pandemic has the arts communities calling out for help in keeping things alive and active for the future. I don’t think the arts will completely die. I’m sure the arts have taken worse hits in history and have still triumphed. Nevertheless, it will be a fight for the future.

Also there’s talk from health professionals and medical board leaders that there is a big possibility of a Second Wave of COVID that could come in the fall and it could be worse. I hope not with all the prevention we’ve been doing. That will really cause a lot of financial damage that would definitely be irreparable. There’s already a lot of crazy things happening right now. Like just this week as the US saw a steady drop in new COVID cases for the past weeks, there’s now a sudden jump in cases that have reached record highs! Times like these make me glad my Palm Springs retreat was cancelled. Also airlines in Canada and the US have resumed more of their regular business and are accepting up to capacity. I just hope they have regulations like all wearing a mask and the right air filtering on board.

That’s all I have to say for my COVID update for now. There’s a mix of things that either look optimistic or look pessimistic or fearful. Only time will tell what happens as far as how the pandemic goes and its impact on the economy and people’s own lives. Me, I just want them to find a cure and a vaccine fast. Enough is enough!

Life During COVID-19

Vancouver Sunday 1

When COVID-19 hit the outside world, everything ground to a halt. This is what Downtown Vancouver looked like on a Sunday in April.

I’m sure the COVID-19 virus, or as most would call the ‘Corona Virus,’ has changed your life to one almost unrecognizable to the way it was when March started. I know mine has had a lot of changes. However it’s a crazy time we’re living in now. Not as crazy as it was in March or April, but still crazy enough and showing no signs of immediate relief. A virus that seemed to exist in a city half a world away has now infected six million people worldwide. Here’s what I noticed over the time.

I know this will be the wordiest blog I’ve ever written, but I have to get all this off my chest.

The Pandemic Looming

The news of COVID-19 was catching our eyes as far back as February. It made brief news in January, but the news in February was about a pandemic in the Wuhan province of China that was looming. There was the fear that it might be carried to the outside world. Eventually it did hit the outside world and we’re now still fighting it!

News had already hit Canada of our first cases. Our first death happened in the second week of March and it was a 78 year-old in a Richmond hospital. It was evident that our lives would soon change. That would become the case the following week. It was then when things like social distancing, working remotely and the closure or limit of non-essential services. I even remember the last time I ate out. It was a get-together of former employees of my job at a pub just a ten-minute walk away. It was on March 14th and pretty much the last weekend where people could meet inside a restaurant. Then everything changed the following week.

This was a concern for me. For a long time, I’ve compared to COVID to other pandemics or epidemics of the past like the Spanish Flu or the Bubonic Plague or the Plague of Justinian. When we had our social restrictions– actually there are still regulations in BC as I speak– I often wondered “Did they handle it the same way back during influenza?”

Cancellations, Cancellations, Cancellations

To the disappointment of almost everyone, it appears every event worldwide had to be cancelled because of the pandemic. At that dinner with former co-workers, I remember the pub had their television on one sports channel and one golf channel. The news of first the NBA cancelling the rest of their season and then the news of the NHL cancelling the rest of their season sent a message about how serious this problem is. Even the golf channel talked of PGA and LPGA events that were cancelled. Interesting how nowadays, the sports channels have been replaying past sports events. That has been successful in lifting the mood of things, to an extent.

More cancellations were on the way. The Eurovision Song Contest was cancelled, the Euro 2020 football event had to be postponed for the following year. Pressure became a case that the Tokyo Olympics that were slated this summer were also postponed until 2021. Cancellations are also happening locally too. In Greater Vancouver, events like the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival in June, the Celebration Of Light in July and the Pacific National Exhibition for around Labor Day had to cancel out as there’s no certainty the pandemic would end around their times. Winnipeg’s Folklorama had to cancel out their festival for August completely. It’s a pain and a headache, but it’s best to do so as right now no relief is currently guaranteed for their times.

Occupational Shock

I’ll bet there may be just 10% of the world where COVID-19 has not changed their job situation one bit this whole time. They must be few and far between or just plain hermits. If you haven’t lost your own business, or lost your job because of a temporary layoff, then your work setting will definitely have changed.

How many of you have had to move your desks from your office to you own home? How many of you still working use Zoom to communicate with your meetings? If you work for a small restaurant or even a big franchise, has it shut down or is it now just strictly pick-up or delivery? That’s what the normal has been under this time.

As for me, I was informed through my job that I would have to work from home. We would have to have all our computers set up with the right VPNs and the right communicative software to work from home. I remember my supervisor drove me in the afternoon to my home with all my computer equipment in a box. It was a unique three-week experience using all the software. The most I’ll say about my job is that I work for a financial agency that works on behalf of various clients. One thing is that the work slowed down because of restrictions placed in dealing with customers. We all noticed the work getting less and less as the Inbox had little work to do. Eventually I received the call I was placed on a Leave Of Absense. My banked vacation time had to be paid out before I could go into the unpaid part four weeks later. As of now, I’m still waiting for the call back to work. I’m not expecting things to resume once clients want us working for them again.

Right now I’m not too worried about my job. My work computer has been shut down and I have it sitting in a box. I still have my work badge. I also still have my medical and dental happening. Also, I don’t know if your country gives out emergency benefits during a State Of Emergency, but Canada has a wide variety of assistance programs implemented during this time. I applied for the CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit) which is a monthly income supplement for people that have been either laid off or receiving less than $1000 in a month’s period. Currently that’s my income. We’ll see what time holds.

Social Distancing: You’re Lucky To Get Around

shoppers spacing

In March, lines were made with tape and paper for markers.

You hear it all the time nowadays: lines like ‘Stay Home’ or ‘Stay two metres apart.’ To think at the beginning of the 2020, there was no such term as ‘Social Distancing.’ However that’s one of the things about this outbreak. Most of us never had to wear a surgical mask in public. That all changed when health officials made speeches recommending us to wear them.

Businesses sure changed. I mentioned about my time in the pub. That was the last dine-in weekend. Now restaurants have either closed completely or they make it strictly pick-up or a delivery service like Skip The Dishes. Fast food or coffee chains like McDonald’s or Starbucks have closed their restaurants and only allowed for drive-thru pick up. Few stores were open, except for those with essential services. Grocery stores and pharmacies were open. Furniture stores or clothing stores were not. Hair salons were closed off completely. Drop-in doctors offices were closed and they could only be a case where the doctor phones you. In some cases, you would have to send a video of your condition or ailment to your doctor. I know I had to do an appointment over the phone when I had a case of gout in my foot and it was too painful to walk.

bus seat

To keep buses at half-capacity and passengers distant, signs like these were put on seats to prevent sitting.

Also how many of you go into a store and see lines or marks on the floor requesting you to stand 6 1/2 feet or 2 metres apart? I saw that in stores right in the middle of March just shortly when my work-at-home situation started. Even some entrances placed limits on the number of people who can be inside a store and had markers outside signaling where in line to stand. I’m sure there are some buildings that would demand you wear a mask to enter, like hospitals I’m sure.

Bus transportation is still there, but it has limited capacity. For two weeks, I would not get on a bus until I was invited by a family member to visit them. I was nervous when I got on. I didn’t have a face mask so I used my scarf if I had to. Plus I would almost always go outside wearing leather gloves. Buses in Greater Vancouver are free until June 1st. Skytrains and Seabuses are still fare paid. The buses would only allow for entry on the side door and were half-capacity to limit the number of people riding and the space in between them. There were even markers on the chairs which were not to have people sit upon. Skytrains and Seabuses did not have the same signs on seats to limit people, but the capacities were smaller than usual.

Playtime Is Over

The crazy thing about all these social distancing measures imposed by civic, regional or even federal laws is that they kept on getting stricter and stricter as the numbers got bigger and bigger. That’s the nature when a ‘state of emergency’ is declared. I remember leading to the end of the second week of March, the law was that places should have no more than 250 people gathering in one place. Then it became a case of no more than 50 people in one place. It’s not as severe as some places that demanded lockdowns or even a limit of 10 people in one place, but it was still crazy enough to put a limit on things.

I also remember when I went for mass at a Ukrainian church that weekend, the priest gave the option to use a disposable wooden spoon to put into the mouths of people. He was willing to use the common metal spoon used for everyone, but their mouths had to be opened wide. Also at the Roman church that Sunday’s evening, the church was half-filled with people sitting far apart from each other. That was the same in the Ukrainian church with only immediates sitting close to each other. Since then, churches have limited their services to online services. That was the case even during Easter. I know because I’ve watched many a mass online.

closed playground

Caution tapes on a park swing sets is a familiar site during this pandemic.

However the biggest area you’ll notice it most is in parks and playgrounds. Ever since the pandemic, swing sets, spinning wheels, monkey bars and sandboxes have been closed off. If anyone is to be in a park, they are to do it in the natural areas or on one of the benches. The pandemic was that much of a threat. Even now the swing sets are showing no signs of reopening.

Shopping: All You Can Hoard

It never fails. A pandemic or a problem happens, and then people flood to grocery stores to hoard all that they can. I got my first experience of this type while living on my own not during a pandemic or outbreak, but of a water crisis. Many years ago, Greater Vancouver had a problem with E-coli in the drinking water. People had to boil their water for some time or buy bottled water. You can imagine people would rush to stores to hoard bottled water during that period.

store hoarding

This is all the paper products that was left at a grocery store Monday March 16th.

Now we have the COVID-19 outbreak. As a result, a lot of stores have had their shelves ransacked for various items. The biggest of this pandemic pandemonium was three to four weeks ago. There was the hoarding of drinking water, of pasta, or rice and of meat. However the hoarding that got the most notice was toilet paper. People rushed in to hoard toilet paper more than any other item during that period. The hoarding of three to four weeks ago got so bad, stores posted signs that said ‘Limit 1 (or 2) per Customer.’ Even then, that was still not enough to prevent the hoarding. I remember going into a pharmacy looking for paper towels two weeks ago. Even a set of two rolls of ‘PT’ was enough for me. When I got there, the store had the ‘Limit 1 per customer’ sign, but a two-pack of paper towels was the only paper product on the shelf! That’s right! All the toilet paper and facial tissue were sold out and this two-pack of paper towels was all that was left. Talk about lucking out!

Now things are a far cry from the hoarding. Toilet paper have found their way back on the shelves, but they still go quite fast as well as paper towels. Cleaning products are one item that aren’t necessarily hoarded as much as they were in March but they still go faster than they did before. Leave it to a pandemic to change everything!

Attention To The Statistics

worldometers shot

Paying attention to the daily statistics changes at Worldometers is a daily habit of mine.

It’s a question whether paying attention to the daily COVID-19 statistics is a smart idea or not. It could be smart because you need to know where you’re area stands in terms of probability of infection. It could not be smart because it can promote fear and panic. As if this pandemic hasn’t caused enough fear and panic already!

It first started with the live facts on YouTube back in the middle of March. I came across a live video from NAV MED VIDEOS which features live videos of COVID-19 statistics that were constantly updated once each nation released more facts. The NAV MED VIDEOS live video is still live and is still active in updating. However over time, I switched to the Worldometers site. I find a site with the stats more convenient than a Youtube video. Worldometers also gives constant updates about the latest statistics and the latest numbers. They’re also still active. They do a good job of updating the stats for Canada, but I don’t like how they don’t break it down province-by-province the same way they break it down for the US state-by-state.

The biggest reason why I pay attention to the statistics is to get a good sense on how soon things will get back to normal and how soon the numbers will go down. Another reason is also to see just how big of a threat the virus would be. Numbers of cases per population is very telling. I admit the numbers during March and April looked very distressing. However the number of new cases reported on a daily basis have showed an unsteady but sure decline. If there’s one positive thing to say about the overall statistics, it’s that there are more cases of people fully recovered than active cases. Another positive thing is in terms of closed cases, we have an 87% survival rate. Nevertheless we can’t be sitting pretty yet. Actually there’s no such thing as ‘sitting pretty’ as far as COVID statistics go. In fact right now, Canada ranks 11th overall in terms of total number of deaths. All of us have to wait for numbers of active cases and new cases to get lower to resume more activities we used to do.

COVID In My Dreams

Now this is something totally crazy, but it should be seen as eventual. You know a pandemic or an outbreak is a part of your life when it’s in your dreams at night. It happened to me twice during the third week of March:

  • During the evening of Monday that week leading into the morning of Tuesday (St. Patrick’s Day), I dreamt I was traveling by automobile through various areas of the city of Vancouver. I then found myself about to enter a library in a new building in South Vancouver. When I enter the library, I found it very hard to breathe; almost impossible to inhale. I think I struggled in taking three breaths. Then my alarm clock went off. I woke up and I was breathing normally. You can imagine my relief! Looking back, I don’t think it was exactly a dream about me having COVID-19 exactly, but shortness of breath is a COVID symptom.
  • The evening of the Friday that week leading into the morning of the Saturday, I dreamt I was going to a community college of various buildings and floors. The whole time, I attempt to practice social distancing despite having to move fast from place to place. I’m by the elevator of the second floor of some building. The door opens up and a young woman comes to me in a hostile manner: “You! You bumped me! You jerk! Don’t you know it’s dangerous? You could’ve infected me!” You can imagine my relief when I woke up.

I haven’t had any other memorable dreams of COVID-19 since then, but it’s interesting how an outbreak can be part of your dreams so soon.

Those Risking Themselves

For the first 2 1/2 months, almost everything was closed down or in limited function. The biggest business that did not see business decline with the pandemic is the health system. Now more than ever, nations need health officials and hospitals functioning like never before. The problem is it’s extremely tiring for health officials and nurses constantly tending to patients. I’ve heard of hospitals reserving a single floor as a COVID ward. Those nurses would be working the most hours, be under the most stress and would be under the most threat to catch the virus themselves.

Nurses aren’t the only ones who face threats of COVID on the job. Despite seating restrictions on public transit, bus drivers also face threats of contagion. That was especially highlighted in April when Detroit bus driver Jason Hargrove died of COVID. Just a week and a half before his death, the 50 year-old Hargrove posted a video where he talks of the difficulties doing his job during this pandemic. He even talked of a female passenger coughing without covering her mouth. I was upset with his death but I was most shocked to hear of a full-grown adult not covering their mouth when they cough.

Grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores still operated during the pandemic, but they had to take precautions and limit their hours. Cashiers would have to work behind a plastic protector or wear a see-through visor to protect themselves. They would only handle cash if they wear gloves. If you have a credit card, you had to run it through yourself with no putting it through any plastic. Some places won’t even allow paper or coin money for fear of contagion. Also at convenience stores and gas bars, no more self-serve coffee. The cashier does it for you. That’s what happens when a contagious disease hits.

The COVIDiocy Of COVIDiots

I don’t know what you’ve been doing for precautions. As for me, I’ve been doing my utmost. I think it was the dreams I had that most did it to me. Or it could be because I know a COVID test involves inserting a cotton swab far into your nasal passage. I sure as hell don’t want something like that! That explains why I’ve been doing my best to keep 2 metres apart. When I meet up with people, I keep the space standard of 2 metres. I try to be preventative instead of afraid. I take my vitamins as I normally do, I still go out shopping, I still jog down the sidewalks of Burnaby and New Westminster, but I make sure I’m a good distance away from others each time. Plus I still wear my leather gloves when I’m outdoors.

I will admit I do get nervous especially if I’m in a crowded area with a lot of people. I’ve seen it many a times. I see groups of people at a beach or park. Whenever I see that, I think ‘I hope they all live together in the same house.’ I also still see people either crowding or too close to each other at bus stops, I see some grocery stores with too many people inside. Whenever I’m in such a place, I make sure I get away from it as soon as I can as well as avoid close contact to others. Even when a single person goes in the same direction I’m going in an indoor place, it makes me nervous. I impulsively think they have disregard to social distancing measures and I feel like saying to them: “What the hell is wrong with you?” I don’t say it to them, but I’m tempted to.

And then there are those that are either careless, ignorant, or defiantly rebellious. Those are the subject of the new word created for 2020: COVIDiot! Some of the most noteworthy is young people. Now don’t think I’m knocking this generation of young people; the belief of ‘Live fast, die young, leave a pretty memory’ has transcended generation after generation. However the constant belief of being young and invincible doesn’t even change during a pandemic. We see it as groups of young adult crowd close together at a beach or public place. Just two weeks ago, I saw a group of twelve teens meet together outside my apartment building door. Only two live inside any of the apartments.

However the biggest news of the ignorance of COVIDiocy has to be during March when spring break in Florida still continued and beaches were still crowded. Further firestorm came when one of the partiers said in a news interview: “If I get corona, I get corona. At the end of the day, it won’t stop me from partying.” The news stories also showed how the reporter was talking to the partiers about the possibility of contagion. The young man said “Well, let us handle it in our own way.” I know young people don’t want to stop partying, but a pandemic should make one think twice.

And COVIDiots include the pundits, the fringe media and conspiracy theorists. They’re a class of COVIDiocy of their own. They include American religious ministers who say this pandemic is God punishing America for tolerating abortion and same-sex marriage. Please, COVID is a virus! Not a punishment! There are even people that are denying COVID exists and that it’s all a conspiracy to hoard rights. Alex Jones must be desperate for a crowd. It’s sick he brings his own children to the rally and hugs supporters. Besides, some that claimed it to be a hoax have made themselves sick of COVID, and some even died. There are those that stormed state halls to protest the social restrictions, claiming it’s unconstitutional. There are a lot of right-wing types that believe that state and federal laws protecting from a health hazard is a threat to constitutional rights. And finally there are religious ministers who violate state regulations on indoor gatherings and open their doors to their churches. Some number to over 1000 and there’s no social distancing at all. I take it they forgot the scripture “Thou shall not put the Lord God to the test.”

First Signs Of Relief

This past month of May, we’ve been seeing the statistics of new contagion go down steadily. The daily statistics are still high enough to keep certain restrictions active, but allow some restrictions to loosened. This week, churches will reopen, but to a maximum capacity of 50. Transit will resume to regular fare paid, but with seating restrictions still implemented. Hair salons are reopening, but some will charge a COVID tax and all will demand their clients wear a mask. Some non-essential stores like Winners opened last week, but with limitations on how many can enter. The number of people allowed depends on the square footage of the store. Dental offices will reopen starting June 1st. That’s beneficial for me because I have a cracked tooth and I will get it fixed on Friday the 5th.

Reopenings are not immediate. In a pandemic, they have to be gradual. I’ll admit it has been annoying having such a limit of places to go to and waiting outside. I’ll admit it’s annoying not being able to have a haircut. I even dream of the day I can return to dining in at a restaurant. However I will gladly comply as this is about preventing a pandemic from reaching devastating numbers at home.

Despite all the chaos and bad news that has happened, there has been a lot of good during this pandemic. People and companies have become more charitable and groups have supplied food donations to others. There have been nations during frightening contagion rates put under lockdowns or confinements to their homes and buildings. The confined responded by singing from their balconies or even doing aerobic classes to other tenants across to the other apartment. The human spirit won’t die!  There’s also a greater appreciation for nurses and health professionals. They, more than anyone else, have the hardest duty of fighting the pandemic up front with the patients they see. They have to work longer hours and under harsher conditions. Here in Canada, we have a habit of thanking them every evening at 7pm when we go out and bang the drum or clank the pots. We want them to know how thankful we are for them. I’m sure there are other salutes of ‘thank you’ done differently around the world.

So for my concluding paragraph, I just have to say the COVID-19 pandemic continues. It shows signs of waning down, but reopening things will be a slow steady process. Despite things not being as bad or as fearful as it was in March, it’s still something worth taking seriously. We may not have the same big numbers of daily new cases, but the new case rates are still worth taking seriously. Plus it’s only now they’re testing out possible cures or vaccines for COVID-19. It’s frustrating trying to protect yourself. It’s also frustrating for the doctors, nurses and hospitals too. It’s most frustrating for those with the COVID-19 and their families. Nevertheless it’s important to stay strong right now. The statistics of COVID-19 have been ugly and are still worth keeping an eye out for, but we should remember all this is to protect ourselves until a cure and a vaccine is found. We also shouldn’t forget that the human race has been through worse. There was the Influenza epidemic of 1918 to 1919 that killed around 100 million. There have been smallpox epidemics many times in history including one in Japan in the 8th Century that killed 1/3 of the nation’s population. There were Cholera pandemics in Asia in the 19th Century that killed millions of people. There’s especially the Bubonic Plague or Black Death in 14th Century Europe that killed 1/3 of the continent. Or even the Plague of Justinian that ended the Roman Empire.

We all have to stay strong and be as preventative as we can. We have the chance to prevent COVID-19 from claiming even its FIRST million lives. There have been excellent efforts of people doing their parts and there have been people acting careless with a false sense of invincibility. We should all work to make this pandemic a thing of the past. When they stay at home and you live in a high-risk area, you stay at home! All I can say right now is whatever the situation is in your home country right now, stay cautious and continue to protect yourself.