At the same time each night, Rev. Gary Paterson and about half a dozen other neighbours have begun gathering at least two metres apart on the rooftop patio of their building in Vancouver’s west end.
They don’t know who will signal the beginning, and everyone’s clocks are slightly different, but just before 7 p.m., they hear clapping in the distance.
“It’s usually at about two minutes to seven, like people can’t restrain their enthusiasm, and then it starts to move like a wave,” he said on Wednesday.
The applause is for health-care workers and other essential service providers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s a practice that became commonplace in Italy, which has recorded more deaths from the novel coronavirus than anywhere else and has now taken hold in British Columbia. The virus itself has killed 14 people in B.C., and 659 people have so far been confirmed to have it.
Paterson said the first few nights were quieter, but the wave has grown in strength.
“Last night was incredible. There just seems to be more and more people. People swinging open their windows and clapping and leaning out. People on balconies and somebody blowing a trumpet somewhere — just a wonderful response from the whole community,” he said.
For Paterson, a United Church minister, the message is personal.
Not only is his daughter an emergency room nurse, but he went through a tough time medically last year. He had a hip replacement, emergency bowel surgery that saved his life and a colostomy reversal.
“It made me incredibly appreciative and impressed by the health-care workers from doctors and nurses to all those who kept things clean. Now I realize they’re in the midst of this crisis and it doesn’t stop them,” he said.
“So here we are to do what we can to help.”
I learned that because there’s a shift change at the nearby St.Paul’s Hospital at 7pm we residents applaud and thank our Health Care workers #ThankYouCOVID19Heroes #westend #Vancouver pic.twitter.com/kH57O5kaa8— Ed Chee (@cheechoo98) March 24, 2020
The phenomenon is spreading.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps has encouraged residents to open their windows and give a loud round of applause at 7 p.m. each night.
Fiona Burrows said she was inspired to bring the practice to her neighbourhood in New Westminster.
“I live less than a kilometre away from Royal Columbian Hospital and I have plenty of friends and neighbours in my community here who work at the hospital and I thought what a great way to show our appreciation for what they’re doing,” she said.
It started small on Monday, with Burrows and one other neighbour tooting horns at the stroke of 7 p.m. But thanks to the power of social media, word spread quickly.
On Tuesday, it was a completely different story, she said.
“People were out on their porches and in their yards and they were hooting and hollering and banging pots and pans and waving at each other and it was just a wonderful couple of minutes of feeling connected, even though we’re in this time of social isolation.”
Burrows said she plans to continue the practice until the pandemic is over.
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press