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Coronavirus: Patios busy, student neighbourhoods quiet on St. Patrick’s Day in London, Ont.

Click to play video: 'Twice unlucky: Another St. Patrick’s Day during pandemic' Twice unlucky: Another St. Patrick’s Day during pandemic
WATCH: For the second St. Patrick's Day of the pandemic, bars and pubs in Canada aren't feeling lucky. Heather Yourex-West looks at how COVID-19 restrictions are muting celebrations again. – Mar 17, 2021

A full update is set to arrive Thursday afternoon, but London police said they were encouraged by what they saw early in the day as the city marked another St. Patrick’s Day amid the pandemic.

This year’s version of the annual celebration arrived less than a week after a community outbreak of COVID-19 had been declared by the Middlesex-London Health Unit.

Health officials said the outbreak was tied to a number of post-secondary student gatherings, with initial infections linked to Western University students.

Read more: MLHU declares COVID-19 outbreak after 22 cases tied to off-campus parties

Adam Campbell is the general manager of Jack’s, a downtown bar that he says was as busy as restrictions would allow on Wednesday.

Campbell says everything went as expected in the morning and afternoon rush, except for a large lineup that formed outside the bar more than two hours before opening time.

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“Our early openers were scheduled to arrive anytime between 9:30 to 10 a.m. When they arrived, we already had a large group of potential customers outside lined up. Some of them had been there before 9 a.m.,” Campbell said.

“As soon as we were finished with our setup procedures inside the bar — and let me get this straight, we weren’t even open at the time — we sent staff out on the street and started dissipating them and moving them.”

Campbell says he was disappointed to see folks not distancing or wearing masks when they had lined up, but adds the bar didn’t have any further issues with lineups once staff were able to monitor the crowd.

The sentiment was also shared by Brown & Dickson Bookstore, a downtown shop that closed for the day after seeing Wednesday morning’s lineup.

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The book shop tweeted out a photo of the lineup downtown when they informed customers they’d be closing for the day.

Co-owner Vanessa Brown told Global News the tweet wasn’t directed at students nor any neighbouring businesses, but rather at those flouting COVID-19 restrictions.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re student or a worker or a parent or who you are, if you’re gathering with people and getting inebriated and taking off your mask and starting a superspreader event, I’m not going to be happy with you,” Brown said.

“And if you’re doing it right next to my small business, I’m going to lock the door.”

Read more: ‘Things are really going to change’: 3rd COVID-19 vaccine clinic opens in Middlesex-London

A second-year student at Fanshawe College, Christopher Mattis, spent the early afternoon downtown.

He says patios and restaurants were busy at the time, but that didn’t draw any coronavirus concerns.

“Everybody’s keeping their distance in lines, at the restaurants and all that, so for myself personally, I feel pretty safe.”

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Elsewhere, it was a quiet day on Broughdale Avenue, an Old North neighbourhood that’s often home to student parties outside of pandemic times.

“I kind of expected more to happen, just ’cause the sun’s coming out and the snow’s gone,” said Jay Giroux, a third year Western student and Broughdale resident.

“I’ve seen a few cop cars come by, that’s about it.”

Read more: London’s Agriplex offers culturally aware Indigenous COVID-19 vaccination program

Nathan Alessi is another Western student who lives a few doors down and had no plans for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

He says the neighbourhood has stayed tame over the past year.

“At the beginning of the (school) year it wasn’t as dead just because the COVID, I guess, was a little bit less in the people’s minds,” Alessi said.

“Ever since the first scare that we had up here with COVID, it’s honestly calmed down drastically … a lot of us have kind of just kept to ourselves and made sure that we’re staying safe.”

It was a quiet day on Broughdale Avenue, an Old North neighbourhood that’s often home to student parties outside of pandemic times. Andrew Graham / Global News

First year Western student Ben Van Walleghem was still able to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day amid the pandemic, but nothing beyond the company of his housemates.

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Van Walleghem spent the day on his Richmond Street home’s front lawn, where his neighbours also sat outside from distance.

“You can go to the bars, but it’s not the smartest decision … definitely can’t go to house parties and stuff like that, so we’re just trying to remain safe, keep it to our close knit group of four and just enjoy the day,” Van Walleghem said.

“We pulled our own couches out, we’re hanging out at our own house, you don’t need to Uber anywhere, you don’t need to buy drinks at a bar, you’re saving money either way.”

Ben Van Walleghem (second from left) sits on a couch with his housemates as they spend St. Patrick’s Day on their front lawn. Andrew Graham / Global News

Speaking to Global News late Wednesday afternoon, Const. Sandasha Bough said police were “encouraged by what we’re seeing so far.”

“Although we haven’t responded to anything significant at this point, we can say that we’ve responded to a number of noise complaints and we continue to monitor any calls that come in,” Bough said.

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Police, along with city officials and the region’s public health unit, have been working in a collaborative response to St. Patrick Day celebrations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bough says police plan on providing a full recap of how celebrations went in London on Thursday afternoon.

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