And here, formerly unknown public health doctors, more used to sitting in offices, came to the fore to give a daily score of the cases and deaths and to implore the populace to wash their hands and keep a distance from other people.
Talk of “social distancing” and hand washing abounded and yet, in New York City and London England, the subway systems, trains and buses continued operating. “Health care workers need to get to their jobs and anyway the number of trains has been reduced” was the logic – but this merely squeezed more passengers into fewer trains. Canada belatedly announced March 28 that passengers with symptoms would not be allowed to travel on public transport. No one said how this would be policed – a physical examination before boarding?
Meanwhile, some tried putting the disease into context. For example, we had 657 deaths mainly among young people in Alberta in 2018 from opioid and street fentanyl poisoning. There are 257,000 deaths from all causes each year in Canada, which in Alberta works out to roughly 50-60 per day – mainly the elderly.
“This is different, dad,” said my daughter, a dentist in London, Ontario, adding that a 30-something grocery clerk had just died of COVID-19 while going about his business. She’s right, but we don’t know how many of these deaths would have occurred anyway, either from something not mentioned due to privacy or from a condition not yet diagnosed.
Meanwhile, stock markets tanked as did sales of Corona beer. I felt shocked fascination watching the markets on my iPhone. “Wow CIBC is at $52 with a 7.2% dividend,” I announced to colleagues. “There’s no way they’ll go bankrupt.” I bought and watched the price demonstrate a dead cat bounce. But it was a sensible buy if you take a three to four year outlook … unless we’re on a path like the Japanese stock market which hasn’t recovered from the plunge in 1989. But hey, that’s because they over-stimulated the economy in the 90s and now at 250% have the highest debt to GDP ratio in the G7 and the populace is into unenlightened thrift and saving, Couldn’t happen here, could it, because Mr. Morneau says our economy is fiscally solid with only a moderate national gross (federal plus provincial) debt to GDP ratio of 89.7% in 2018. So we can borrow, no problem.
Restaurants, bars and clubs closed, putting those in the service industry out of work. Then followed sports amenities. I’d been enjoying spring in Nanaimo where in mid-March the daffodils were blooming and played golf on a lovely afternoon with an old friend, Alan. The pro shop was closed but you could book a round at the Nanaimo golf club, the only rejoinder was: “golfers should not use the bunker rakes due to possible contamination.” Ha-ha we cried … we can manage without rakes. But the next day the club closed the course, never mind the subways still running in New York City.
Regimes differed in different countries. Sweden closed down very little: schools remained open, as were restaurants and bars. South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan took an early “test everybody” approach identifying those requiring isolation and reducing spread in the epidemic’s early phase.
In Canada we’ve had the daily Trudeau morning show where the prime minister’s drama training has finally paid off. We were slow imposing restrictions on travel. Ottawa snickered when Trump imposed a travel ban on airlines flying from COVID-19 hotspots before imposing that ourselves. And our too late banning of travellers with symptoms from using public transport (with no plan for monitoring) while everyone keeps six to eight feet from each other, is inconsistent.
Our AHS medical officers of health have done a good job with statements of daily facts, practical advice and efforts on containing hot spots like seniors’ residencies.
Not so, the ministry of health, I fear.
“Come down and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon … therefore evil shall come of thee…and desolation shall come upon thee suddenly…” Isaiah 47: verses 1 and 11.