In the days before Twitter, news photographer Bob Watson kept a police scanner bleating on his bedside table all night long.
The London native loved in his job and Regina, his adopted home. He loved people, had a great laugh and a great eye for an image. Most of all, he was kind.
My friend and former Regina LeaderPost colleague died Sunday of COVID-19. He was 69.
Regina is in lockdown, a pandemic hot spot in a province with higher infection rates per capita than most of Canada.
It’s why I can’t separate the sadness over his death from my anger at the stupidity of anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers, including two Regina women fined $2,800 for organizing a Saturday protest that drew 30 people, owners and patrons of two Vancouver restaurants who ignored the indoor dining ban, and a loudmouth Instagrammer seeking audience by driving around with a megaphone.
I’m angry at the mindless, childish banality of their protests as I think of grieving families, exhausted, anxious health workers, and others on the front line at groceries, pharmacies, schools and other essential services.
I don’t deny everyone has a right to free speech.
Perhaps these people haven’t had friends or family affected by COVID. They’re lucky. But they’re delusional to think they’re not at risk and incredibly selfish to think they aren’t a risk to others.
More than a million Canadians have had COVID or have tested positive. The virus is spreading relentlessly and the longer it spreads, the more likely it will mutate into more contagious and deadly variants, like the one identified in Brazil that’s infecting more and more younger people, including Vancouver Canucks players.
I know public officials have a hell of a job making life-altering decisions day after day. Their assumption that most would comply with their recommendations was right. Still, it increasingly seems restrictions and their enforcement are too little, too late.
Bringing this pandemic under control will take a high percentage of inoculated people. Until then, there are only cruder tools, such as masks, social distancing and stay-at-home orders to slow the mutating virus.
So, what’s a few weeks or months to save lives and make it easier for front liners?
One day last week, ambulances had trouble crossing a Vancouver bridge amid an anti-mask protest, a paramedic friend told me.
“It’s beyond challenging,” she said. “I struggle to see my patients through a fogged-up face shield, but end up screaming just to have a simple conversation . . . because nobody can hear us through the PPE (personal protective equipment).”
There is constant cleaning of the ambulance and gear. Each shift is busier because there are more calls, more time needed to disinfect between them and because the B.C. Ambulance Service is short-staffed as paramedics test positive or burn out.
Yet, bored, fearless “rebels” are prolonging and spreading the agony.
I don’t know how my friend Bob contracted the virus. But I know he would have been careful. Bob cared too much about others to put them at risk.