TORONTO — Canadians and their governments scrambled on March 19 to come to grips with the COVID-19 pandemic as case numbers rose, social distancing ramped up, and everyday life morphed into an abnormal new normal that could last months.
Amid growing and widespread economic turmoil, isolation measures that have shuttered bars, restaurants and entertainment venues have idled a dizzying number of workers. Distress hotlines have seen a surge in calls and battered women’s shelters are bracing themselves.
One person now out of work, Lisa Warren, spoke of the disbelief at learning this week that both her jobs were gone — as a manager in a community centre and as a hotel painter.
“I was shocked that day and the next morning and I woke up and had crazy anxiety,” Warren said from Vancouver. “Everything of a sudden became real. I have to change my daily approach.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has promised billions in financial help to soften the devastating economic blow, urged people on March 19 to self-isolate as he acknowledged the “difficult and extraordinary” measures now in place might last weeks or months.
“There’s no doubt, these are uncertain times,” Trudeau said from his own self-isolation in Ottawa.
With most airlines drastically curtailing operations, thousands of people have been stranded abroad. In one case, a tour group of Canadians has been stuck in Peru, which shut its borders on March 16 for at least 15 days.
“There is a big feeling of helplessness,” Amit Konorty, whose 24-year-old son is among the stranded, said from Toronto. “It’s very scary.”
Trudeau said he had spoken to Air Canada and WestJet about finding ways to help Canadians get back to a country struggling to slow infection rates.
An Ontario health unit reported the province’s second death linked to the illness as cases jumped to a total of 257. Canada as a whole is now closing in on 800 cases, 10 of them fatal. Seven of the fatalities have occurred in British Columbia, which has also surpassed the 200-case mark, while Quebec — where the other fatality occurred — has topped 120 cases.
Most people with COVID-19 show mild symptoms, with the elderly and those with underlying health problems at greater risk. The federal government says frequent hand-washing and keeping at least two metres from others is the most effective way to prevent the spread of the highly contagious virus.
To ensure isolation, New Brunswick became the latest province to declare a state of emergency, after British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador have declared public health emergencies.
Premier Blaine Higgs of New Brunswick said too few people were avoiding public gatherings. All non-essential retail businesses were ordered shut.
Fears of even tougher anti-virus measures prompted hundreds of people to line up at liquor and cannabis stores in Prince Edward Island on March 19. Ontario’s online cannabis store also reported high demand.
Trudeau said details of the closure of the Canada-U.S. border to all “non-essential” travel would come within in a day or so.
In line with others entering Canada, all would-be refugees arriving at the Roxham Road border crossing into Quebec from New York state will be quarantined in temporary housing for 14 days, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said. She also said she had spoken to all the premiers about the issue.
The fast spread of the virus prompted hundreds of doctors, nurses and activists to call on provincial governments to ensure immediate access to free health care for recent immigrants and other newcomers. Typically, new arrivals — including Canadians returning from longer stretches abroad — must wait at least three months for provincial health coverage.
“We are deeply concerned about these pre-existing barriers to health care for uninsured individuals in Canada, and the potential public health implications in the context of a pandemic,” the group OHIP For All said in an open letter to Ontario’s premier and health minister.
Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said March 19 the province was looking to change the rules for returning Canadian citizens, and anyone needing care would get it.
As the country grapples with how to stem the disease’s spread and its unprecedented economic fallout, scam artists have been taking full advantage. Ploys include sending people messages they have tested positive and directing them to call a number, where they are asked to provide credit card and other information.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has flagged several COVID-19-related scams and warned against providing financial information under such circumstances.News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2020