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This week the province crossed the 80% first dose and 55% second dose thresholds, and as New Brunswick continues to approach the Green Phase of recovery, excitement is building for a return to something close to normal. Festivals and sporting events are returning, out-of-province license plates are becoming more commonplace, and organizations like the Fredericton Chamber are moving forward with a return to in-person events in late summer / early fall. New Brunswickers are starting to feel more comfortable with pre-pandemic consumer behaviours and are making the conscious decision to get out and support more local businesses and tourist locations than they have been able to over the past year and a half. 

Anecdotally, we’ve also noticed a significant uptick in patrons at shops, bars and restaurants over the past couple of weeks. The restrictions lifted in Phase 2 of the province’s Path to Green – particularly the ability to operate at full capacity as well as the expansion of bubbles to include all friends and family have been very helpful. The summer weather certainly helps, but we are also seeing the results of ongoing collaboration and intentional efforts by local stakeholders, including business associations, municipal government and businesses themselves. In the capital, #SupportFredLocal marketing initiatives and projects such as Fredericton al Fresco, live entertainment, increased patio space and businesses continuing to provide a safe and fun environment have played a key role. We are also hearing about new projects moving forward that had been largely on hold during the pandemic. 

While we should embrace the positive news and celebrate our success at controlling COVID-19, we also have to be aware that the pandemic isn’t over and for many small businesses, the economic fallout will be felt long after the health crisis has subsided. 

It will take some people more time to feel comfortable going back to their previous behaviours, but I am so proud of our chamber members that continue to go above and beyond to ensure a safe environment for their patrons and have played a big role in New Brunswick’s success fighting COVID-19. In many cases, these businesses have faced an exceptionally difficult time for nearly 18 months – likely the most difficult of their entrepreneurial journey. We all need to double down on supporting those businesses – and not think that now that they’ll be more fully operational – they are back on their feet. We encourage New Brunswickers to think local and ‘put their money where their heart is’ as optimism doesn’t pay the bills. 

Throughout the pandemic we have seen examples of individual decisions making a big difference in controlling the spread of COVID-19/ Some factors are beyond our control, but we can still have the attitude that each of us has a role to play and should be focused on what we can: 

Keep up the pace on vaccinations. In addition to the obvious – that unlocking the Green Phase is based on 75% of eligible New Brunswickers receiving their second dose – being vaccinated protects you and others from the virus. While we’ll still be “living with COVID-19″ – vaccinated people are experiencing less severe symptoms and the United States is reporting that more than 99% of COVID-19-related deaths are now linked to unvaccinated individuals.  

Businesses and organizations can take advantage of the chambers of commerce rapid test screening initiative. This free program is available through the chambers in Fredericton, Moncton, Saint John and Edmundston supported by the Canadian and Atlantic chambers along with the federal and provincial governments. Visit any of our websites or reach out for more details. 

Keep shopping and travelling locally. While things are looking up, there are still a long road to recovery for many of your favourite restaurants, bars, hotels, retail shops, tourist destinations, travel agents and many more. At the same time government support programs are winding down and these businesses will sink or swim based on our support.  

Finally – be kind. Businesses and their employees are getting used to the new normal along with everyone else. Every workplace has a unique challenges and risks to assess and plan accordingly. There’s a reason the Green Phase is “living with COVID-19″, so if a business asks patrons to wear a mask without a Public Safety order or retains other Public Health measures, they are doing it because they think it’s the best choice to protect their employees and customers. Certainly do not take any residual frustrations out on the employees tasked with enforcing policy.  

We’ve been waiting and working towards this moment for a year and a half. Let’s enjoy it and embrace returning to normal, but not lose sight that the pandemic has impacted individuals and businesses unevenly and they will need our intentional support now and into the future. 

Krista Ross is CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, a nationally accredited organization with more than 1,000 members, is an active business organization engaged in policy development and advocacy that affects the competitiveness of our members and the Canadian business environment. The Chamber’s vision is ‘Stronger Community Through Business Prosperity’. 

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