[00:00:00] News Clip: Three, two, one, ladies and gentlemen, take your seats, have your first drink, please come down.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: What you just heard is what our summer could sound like. The United Kingdom right now is about to move to Stage Three of a four stage reopening. But even those sounds, the sounds of stage two, to be honest, are completely foreign to me right now. These things are happening because vaccines work and pandemics end. The UK is several weeks ahead of Canada in terms of vaccinating everyone, especially with their second doses, but we are catching up quickly. So would you like a little glimpse of what our summer might sound like? A story about how it feels to realize that nobody’s wearing masks and everybody’s smiling. How it feels to plan an [00:01:00] actual vacation. How that first drink with your friends tastes.
Everything you’re about to hear today going to happen to Canada soon, I promise. The only questions are when and how we make sure that this time the reopening lasts forever.
I’m Jordan Heath-Rawlings, this is The Big Story. Ebony-Renee Baker is a freelance Canadian journalist living, luckily for her, in London, England. Hey, Ebony-Renee.
Ebony-Renee Baker: Hi Jordan. How are you doing?
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: I’m doing okay. Um, but I bet given the news I’m seeing coming out of London, that you are doing better.
Ebony-Renee Baker: Yeah. I constantly am feeling a bit, uh, what’s the word, guilty when I talked to my Canadian friends and family, because we definitely somehow, I mean, at the beginning of the pandemic, we were not in the best place, but somehow we have ended up [00:02:00] where we are actually going out and kind of enjoying life right now. So it’s been good.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Well, that’s what a we’re talking to you about today, because I feel like we’re about six weeks or so behind you. So the real thing that I first want to know is just, what’s the first thing that you did?
Ebony-Renee Baker: Upon, upon lockdown lifting, I mean, the thing is it’s been such a, and it’s kind of been the same in Canada as well, such a staggered approach to lockdown lifting that I’m kind of like, when did things open again? Like it was kind of like one rolling lockdown, but I guess as of March, um, things have started to reopen slowly but surely.
Honestly, I think the first thing I did was walk around to find a walk-in space at an outdoor patio and find a spot. I wasn’t really like, I wasn’t too optimistic. I wasn’t booking tables because a lot of people were doing that ahead of the announcement that was meant to be made last month. Um, so I wasn’t optimistic and then I kind of regretted it. So the first day [00:03:00] things opened, so that was April 12th, I found myself and my roommate just walking to find anywhere that would serve me alcohol at like much more expensive price than I have been drinking it at home. So I think that was definitely the first thing. And upon actually finding a place, it was just like, wow, have not done this for like what maybe six months, maybe more.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Do you remember what you drank and how it tasted?
Ebony-Renee Baker: Oh yeah, we had a bottle of rosé, we, it was out of, it wasn’t very good. It was out of like a, uh, a bag filled with ice. It would, I don’t think restaurants are really putting that much effort in, cause they’re like, we can pretty much do whatever we want and people are gonna pay for it. So we did that and I had a very expensive plate of hummus and pita, so. Great first day out of lockdown for sure.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Oh, that sounds amazing. So how, you mentioned it’s been gradually reopening, can you kind of, for, for those of us who, um, have seen things just gradually close for [00:04:00] the last three or four months.
Ebony-Renee Baker: Yeah.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Describe that process, like it was a month ago that, um, it was lifted enough for outside beers. Now I’m seeing things open up indoors.
Ebony-Renee Baker: Yeah, yeah yeah.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Um, what’s the, what’s it been like?
Ebony-Renee Baker: To try and sum it up, there was a, there’s a four-step roadmap as they call it that Boris Johnson announced. Um, and this roadmap is basically the strategy that they’re using to bring us out of lockdown.
So the first step is, was two dates. So it was March 8th and March 29th. Um, and in that time, uh, you were allowed to start seeing one person out of your household outside, things like that. Um, it was quite, it wasn’t too, too hectic. It was kind of just like, um, education was resumed, um, and yeah, outdoor gatherings. And then from there, within each step, I think what they said is that there’s about five weeks within each step, so that it takes about four weeks to, uh, to get the [00:05:00] data, to analyze it. And then one week to announce that we’re going ahead with the next step.
So after the last one, we, the next one was April 12th. And that’s the one that I kind of touched upon where patios were open. Um, also personal care, which was another huge thing, I think, that is-
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Oh my gosh, haircuts?
Ebony-Renee Baker: Yeah. So that is another thing. But at the same time, everything’s been booked up like completely and me again, lacking foresight. I didn’t book a haircut until maybe a week before the announcement. So I actually only got my haircut this week and that was, I booked it like end of mid April or no, early April and didn’t get it until early May.
So I think that shows how much people have been really anticipating all of these like lockdown lifts. Um, so along with that, public buildings, gyms open outdoor dining, like I said, some outdoor venues like zoos and theme parks, um, and events like funerals and weddings. I think it was it’s up to like 30, 15 people for weddings. So that is, that’s where we’re at [00:06:00] now.
And then it’s actually been announced that the third step, which is, I think probably like the biggest one, I mean, like the images, I’m sure you’re seeing of London, definitely there are people who are just kind of like doing whatever they want at this point, but the next step, which is, um, as we speak happening, um, on May 17th, which is this coming Monday, uh, so. That basically allows for indoor dining.
Um, we’ve got a traffic light system for countries we can travel to, which is also a huge thing. Um, kind of, uh, up to up to six people within, um, inside indoors. So you can see up six people indoors. So following that, there’s another one in June where essentially, I’m not sure how this is going to happen, but, uh, apparently what we’re aiming for is June 21st for all restrictions to be lifted.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Wow, first day of summer!
Ebony-Renee Baker: Yeah!
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: So as these lockdowns have kind of been lifted in stages, has anything, um, spiked cases, has anything slowed the [00:07:00] decline even, that you guys have been seeing?
Ebony-Renee Baker: I mean, so that was my main hesitation when this roadmap was announced. I was like, surely there are going to be, um, kind of roadblocks, roadblocks in this roadmap, um, kind of things that are going to happen.
But as we’ve seen over the last couple of months, there actually hasn’t been anything that has been like too much of a concern. So basically the roadmap, um, was announced in line with the vaccination rollout. At the time of, uh, of this conversation we’re having, it’s about 53 million total vaccine doses have been received across the UK.
So I think that of course is the main factor in these staggered, um, restrictions lifting. Like that’s the main factor in having this being able to happen. I mean, a couple of weeks ago I saw this report basically saying from, uh, from the Telegraph that Britain is no longer actually in what you would call, like scientifically a pandemic. So I think, um, the steps are huge and [00:08:00] ultimately I think it does just come down to the vaccine program and the success of it.
For me personally, it’s one of those things where I’m like, okay, well we know the people who need to get vaccinated are vaccinated and the steps are continuing. So it looks like we’re in a good place, essentially.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: What I really want to talk to you about, um, and it’s going to sound kind of silly when I ask it, but I think the emotional side of this is something a lot of people in Canada are looking for because things have been really tough for the past few months. What is the vibe like in the UK right now? Like, are people walking around grinning? Um, is it just business as usual? Like, I’m just trying to picture, I can’t picture a life that’s not like the one we have right now.
Ebony-Renee Baker: Yeah. Honestly, I think it’s so funny me, like explaining this cause it’s just kind of been… it’s still so, it’s still so fresh for us as well. It’s still so like, Oh my God, is this actually happening?
But I remember that first day that I went to a patio and got mildly drunk and just [00:09:00] was, was sitting around other people. I think that feeling in itself, that first day was just so euphoric. It was just kind of like, oh, like I legitimately almost cried ’cause I was like, “Am I actually sitting at an institution and, and someone is serving me?” and it’s just these really, really little things that we definitely took for granted.
And in the weeks now, since then I’ve found, um, since I’ve been outside at different, uh, street markets, different, uh, restaurants on their patios, you definitely are finding a little bit more of kind of strangers talking to strangers. And especially as a Canadian, I don’t want to like stereotype myself as a coming here and being so used to kind of just talking with random strangers and speaking on the subway and all that stuff. It was not a thing.
So seeing that now is definitely, and we kind of saw it through lockdown as well. Whenever you’d go to the supermarket or whatnot, people are definitely a little bit more friendly, but especially now knowing that we are on the come up, like on our way out, hopefully of, of what this last year and a half has been, you can see it, [00:10:00] you can see that people are, are excited to be out and excited to be interacting.
And I remember I was sitting at one market. I was sitting at a picnic table and the table beside us, um, these two men started talking to a man who was sitting there alone. And just started like, whipped up this conversation. And I think that’s something that probably, dunno, it might not have happened before all of this began. So I think seeing those little things gives you hope.
And I mean, right now, I definitely I’ve said to my friends, I do feel like a different person. I feel like my life has resumed a little bit, especially being in your twenties. You’re just kind of like, and of course, like living in a different country, you kind of, you’re kind of like, have I been wasting these last precious months, this last year? Um, so yeah, definitely, I think. This is so worth the waiting and knowing when it’s being done at the right time also, it gives you that sense of security, but it’s just been, it’s been really, really great. And I think it’ll just continue [00:11:00] to, with, uh, being able to just see people inside. I know people have already been kind of doing that, but when it’s actually for real, like given the green light, um, definitely lots of improvements there as well.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Well, they’re doing some sort of pilot project, right? I mean, I’ve seen pictures of people in nightclubs just dancing right on top of each other and drinking and talking with no masks. And it’s hard for me to look at that and believe these pictures were taken like right now.
Ebony-Renee Baker: Yeah. And I mean, yeah. So this is part of a pilot project, but also just even thinking about that, I’m like, Oh my God, I don’t think, I, I don’t think I could do that just yet or ever, like who really even likes nightclubs to begin with.
But, um, so yeah, there is basically what, what the government has implemented here is, it’s called the Events Research Program. Um, so that’s taking place basically from now until the summer. Uh, and this pilot program, they’re basically trialing the use of testing and other techniques, obviously social distancing, uh, [00:12:00] versus the lack of social distancing to kind of determine how we can go ahead with these events. If we can go ahead with these events, come this mythical June 21st day. And I think this program is definitely going to help determine restrictions and other events like weddings and, and everything else.
But, um, yeah, I, I know a couple of friends who have been or have booked events that are under this program. So I think it also, it applies not just to nightclubs, but there will be like, uh, concert venues and stuff where the social distancing or some other restrictions are, are lessened. So yeah, the reality of that ever coming back anytime soon is still quite foreign to me. And I don’t know if I could do it. I think a lot of people are kind of like, “Hmm, I’ll take the, I’ll take the restaurants and I’ll take going to the park and stuff. Uh, I don’t know if I could do a nightclub just yet.”
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: What about after June 21st? Um, when you think about the summer, when you talk to your friends or people, you know about what they’re doing, you mentioned some people are already, uh, hoping to [00:13:00] book events with this pilot project. Once things are fully open, assuming we see no other case spikes and it doesn’t look like it, what’s the summer going to be like? I’m only half joking when I ask if it’s just going to be like a drunken street party orgy the entire time. I don’t know if you saw the gum commercial that went around-
Ebony-Renee Baker: No!
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: of everybody running out of their house and then chewing gum so that they could kiss each other in the street.
Ebony-Renee Baker: Oh, yeah.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: And, like, there’s going to be a lot of marketing centered around that. And I want to know what happens.
Ebony-Renee Baker: I mean, I know you’re joking, but at the same time, even, even just walking down in Central London, there are, like in Soho, there’s all these restaurants and terraces, and they’re just filled to the brim, like, the social distancing there is very questionable, but you’re outside, so it doesn’t matter. But you walk down there and even then, you’re just like, I find whenever I meet up and I’ve been meeting up with a lot of friends after not seeing them for a year and you want to give them your full attention, but at the same time, and I don’t, I find it’s [00:14:00] not just me, everyone else, their eyes just constantly shifting to other people and looking around and like, whether that is people you’re attracted to, or just like people watching and being, so. I find that my attention span right now is just so, so low because there’s so much going on. There’s so many people to look at.
I think one other thing that happened recently as well is that my friends and I were walking around, no one was wearing masks because it was an outdoor venue. And we were like, is everyone, is everyone better looking now? Or like, what is it? And then we were like, is it their cheek, but they have such great cheekbones. And then we realized, that realization set in where it’s like, no, everyone’s just been wearing masks for so long that you just don’t see people’s faces.
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been so, um, hesitant before each step of this roadmap that I still don’t fully believe that June 21st, we can just see like an elimination of all restrictions, but given that does happen, I can’t even imagine like what’s going to happen. I mean, alongside with, I think the main thing, people are just really excited to travel and [00:15:00] that’s such a huge part of culture, especially in the UK and Europe. Just being able to go on the weekends and whatnot. So even now with things opening up, I know like I’m already looking at hopefully going to Portugal with this next restriction as of, as of next week that’s been announced.
Um, but I think alongside traveling, I am excited for the summer. I’m excited to see what happens. I would love to come back and visit Canada and kind of travel and. I mean, if there is drunken orgy in, in, in Central London, I would not be surprised. Like if that gum commercial is a, is a prophecy, like sure, go for it. After June 21st, like maybe everything’s, anything is possible, I think.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Ebony-Renee, thank you so much for giving us, uh, a glimpse of what I hope is our future. And maybe wait, like two months before you come back to Canada. Just so you can actually do something here.
Ebony-Renee Baker: Yeah, definitely. I feel like I’m feeling a lot more optimistic now about what’s happening here, talking about it. So thank you.
Jordan Heath-Rawlings: Ebony-Renee [00:16:00] Baker, in London. That was The Big Story, for more from us, head to thebigstorypodcast.ca. Find us on Twitter at @TheBigStoryFPN. You can also, as always, email us, thebigstorypodcast, that’s all one word, all lowercase, @rci.rogers.com [click here!]. Stefanie Phillips, Claire Brassard, and Ryan Clarke produce The Big Story.
I’m your host, Jordan Heath-Rawlings. Thank you so much for listening. Stay safe, have a great weekend. We’ll talk Monday.
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