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COVID-19 FEATURE

SOCIAL GATHERINGS IN A PANDEMIC

Finding creative ways to have a good time while staying safe

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Fall and winter bring important religious events and cultural festivals for many communities, and the need to connect with loved ones in this season is palpable. And then, of course, winter is a few weeks away which might prompt people to spend more time indoors. With COVID-19 rules dictating that social gatherings need to be restricted, Canadians are trying to find creative ways to have a good time while staying safe – both indoors and outdoors.

Gathering inside safely

As Indian-born Sanchari Sen Rai and her friends settled down in her Toronto home in October, to watch the livestream from Belur Math – a Hindu temple in India – broadcasting their annual Durga Puja celebrations, there was a familiar sense of warmth and bonhomie. “We were all decked up in our traditional sarees. By Baisakhi Roy While the priest was conducting the rituals on the livestream, we were complimenting each other on our clothes in hushed tones. Exactly how we would all be in a temple, excitedly discussing our outfits while the puja (religious ritual) went on,” she says with a laugh.

Rai has been in a bubble with her close friends and their families, in line with existing regulations, since the beginning of the pandemic, meeting only on special occasions and keeping up social distancing while meeting indoors. For this particular day – a major festival for the Bengali community – the group made sure that they were spread out in Rai’s home. While some members of the group took the upstairs rooms to hang out, the others took turns to view the livestream in batches in Rai’s spacious basement.

professor at York University, Dasantila GolemiKotra, advises caution even in these social bubbles.

“The risk of exposure to novel coronavirus becomes significant in prolonged indoor gatherings with poor ventilation and where physical distancing is not possible. Considering the above risks of COVID-19 transmission, keep the people in your bubble at a minimum. If you must gather indoors, ensure that people that you are inviting can maintain the physical distance. It is best to keep the gathering for a short time, one hour at best. If your intention is to spend more than one hour (with physical distancing), think about wearing face masks and/or ensure extra ventilation,” she says, urging extra caution this year when winter rolls in.

Keep your distance outdoors

It has been widely recommended in this pandemic that, if needed, people should meet and interact outdoors.

“Outdoors interactions are safer. But at times, cold weather drives us towards gathering closer to each other. So, avoid close-up and prolonged encounters (a 10-15 minute close encounter can be sufficient for an exposure to the virus to happen). If physical distancing becomes an issue, use a cloth face mask, this will not only offer some protection from the cold, but it will inhibit the respiratory droplets too,” says Golemi-Kotra, adding that while her family will choose outdoors activities to enjoy the winter, they plan to be cautious with the crowds, by going skating at odd hours or sledding in the hills close to home.

Physically-distanced walks or meetups in parks or any large open area, bike rides and patio dinners are all great options to fight the winter blues.

Burmese-Canadian chef and owner of AVIV Immigrant Kitchen, Robert Chee is gearing up for winter patio season and hopes that the community and the neighbourhood will rally like they did in the summer and fall months.

AVIV’s owners and chefs are from all over the world and their food has been a big hit for years with their clientele. With the help of the wage subsidy and loan provided by the government, Chee and his partners were able to get through some very difficult months. Like some other restaurants in the city, they have been trying to find ways to keep the patio open. “We will have above Sanchari Sen Rai (in white and red sari) with her bubble, celebrating Durga Puja in her basement

The risk of exposure to novel coronavirus becomes significant in prolonged indoor gatherings with poor ventilation and where physical distancing is not possible. Considering the above risks of COVID-19 transmission, keep the people in your bubble at a minimum. If you must gather indoors, ensure that people that you are inviting can maintain the physical distance.”

small, portable propane heaters at our tables so that patrons can still enjoy outdoor dining. We also offer our guests a cup of hot water with lemon when they come in and we are always told by our patrons that this little gesture is so appreciated!” says Chee.

Just like at AVIV, restaurants across the country are finding innovative ways to keep customers warm: whether by constructing portable pods and tents or giving out thermal blankets.

Chee mentions that making reservations in advance help due to limited seating in their backyard patio. For those still anxious about stepping out, AVIV like many other establishments is making their exclusive products like sauces and pickles available to customers – a great incentive for the holiday season.

And speaking of the holidays, while Halloween wasn’t at its spookiest best this year, some neighbourhoods tried to salvage it with creative methods of dispensing candy to eager kids. Candy chutes and pre-packaged treats were a common sight, with some families also opting to modify the celebrations by screening a scary movie in their backyard or taking the little ones for a drive around the block to enjoy decorations.

As we go into the holiday season, one thing in certain – we all need to learn to adapt and find creative ways of celebrating with our families and friends – whether it is virtually, indoors or outdoors – while following public health guidelines to keep safe.

above DBurmese-Canadian chef and owner of AVIV Immigrant Kitchen, Robert Chee

TIPS FOR INDOOR

SOCIAL GATHERINGS With temperatures dipping in the winter months, more people will lean towards meeting indoors. The Government of Canada has laid down guidelines for such congregations. Highlights include:

1. Have your guests perform a self-assessment check for any COVID-19 symptoms before your event 2. Make hand sanitizer available to all your guests 3. Make sure that there is enough room for your guests to maintain 2m distance between each other 4. Make sure your room is properly ventilated 5. Keep your social bubble (of 10) small and consistent

Hustle and bustle in the kitchen during the pandemic

The pandemic has had a huge impact on the ways we live our lives. Our social commitments and interactions have been reduced, and we are spending a lot more time at home. Not surprisingly, many Canadians are finding innovative ways to unleash their creative side and are channelling their energies into hobbies and interests.

While some are identifying a new interest, others are taking the opportunity to rediscover existing interests, and some are even turning their passions into a business opportunity.

By Ramya Ramanathan

Cooking up new skills

Takshil Shah is one of the many Canadians who has been exploring his passion for cooking. Shah calls himself a “big foodie” and says that he is able to spend more time in the kitchen given that he can work from home and doesn’t have the same long commute to get to the office.

“Things were different preCOVID – we ordered in 2-3 times a week. Since March, we have started cooking more because we now have a lot more time. I would travel from Brampton to Scarborough every day for work, now I save two hours of commuting time,” he says.

Shah and his wife were also hesitant to order from restaurants because of the fear of the potential for the spread of the virus. “We were skeptical about ordering in because of COVID. You never know, with the number of cases rising even in spite of precautions – for instance, [through contact with] the delivery guy.”

Shah and his wife have taken the additional time available to them to experiment with recipes from other cuisines, and these foods have become a regular part of their cooking. “Things turned out well, we cooked more and hardly ordered out. We started trying recipes from different cuisines – Chinese, Italian and Mexican – and they got incorporated into our

daily cooking.”

A YouTube Culture & Trends report, Watching the pandemic, found that there was a spike in cooking viewership in the first months of the pandemic with people watching more videos about making food at home. According to the report, “Cooking up new skills in the kitchen is one of the most accessible ways a person can grow their idea of who they are and what they are capable of, and people flocked to tutorials on YouTube while restaurants were shut down.” The report also found that videos with restaurantstyle cuisine became popular “because cooking and eating these foods is as much about the feeling they provide as the nutritional value”. From their kitchen to yours

A number of food services like ready-to-eat meals for pre-order, DIY kits and family-style meals for home delivery are starting to pop up everywhere. Many with a passion for cooking and an entrepreneurial mindset are even starting to offer up home-cooked meals on online forums. A search for “home-cooked meals” on Facebook Marketplace now brings up an increasing array of options to choose from.

Those with a passion for cooking and an eye for business are offering up home-made meals that are delivered to your doorstep on a daily basis. These services are often recommended by others in the community who are using them.

Since August, Shah and his family haven’t had additional help in taking care of their daughter, which means less time to spend in the kitchen. “My mother-inlaw was visiting us and went back home at the end of August. We have a 20-month old daughter, and [now] we hardly have time to cook.”

They have now started ordering

home-style food: “We started using a tiffin service – they come and deliver every morning and drop off lunches: fresh home-cooked meals instead of pre-cooked food and the person who cooks does it herself. This is working for us since we are more occupied now and have less time than during earlier in COVID,” says Shah.

Making healthier choices

Health and wellness are in the spotlight during the pandemic and there is a lot of advice about avoiding “emotional eating” due to the stress related to drastic lifestyle changes. Tips on grocery shopping, meal planning and healthy eating are available online including on public health websites. While Indian couple Uday and Sheena Bhatia are watching more YouTube cooking videos, they have also been experimenting with healthier food choices. “We have always loved cooking and trying out new recipes. We are taking time to explore healthier options, especially now because now it’s cold outside and we don’t even get that much exercise.”

The Bhatias have been baking and grilling and are now considering buying an air fryer on Black Friday. “It’s definitely not the same taste but it’s healthier than deep frying and you get to eat what you desire: fried chicken, fritters, bread rolls, etc.”

Not everyone is as enthusiastic about spending additional time in the kitchen.

While Polish-South-AfricanCanadian Ola Cukrowska has tapped into her creative side and sewn some beautiful masks during the pandemic, even ordering special fabric to do so, her time spent in the kitchen is pretty much the same. “Absolutely nothing has changed. I use Uber Eats more. I have never baked bread and nor shall I ever. I think scrambled eggs are a perfectly good meal,” she says.

“Sure, take-out comes with its own risks…but it’s less of a risk than walking into a restaurant and ordering food and taking it out; with ordering in, I will be only exposed to one person.”

“Popcorn and wine that’s my dinner,” she says. above Takshil Shah with his family

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