As the March 19 issue went to press, Manitoba has confirmed its first three cases of COVID-19 infections (now expanded to seven).
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had entered a 14-day isolation period after his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, tested positive for the virus after returning from a speaking engagement in the U.K.
Parliamentarians had suspended the House of Commons for five weeks, but not before first passing the NAFTA 2.0 known as CUSMA.
Large scale public gatherings are now being discouraged. The Royal Manitoba Winter Fair, among many other events, has been cancelled. Non-essential travel is being actively discouraged. And in a sure sign of the end times for any true Canadian, the NHL season has been suspended indefinitely.
Meantime stock markets have melted down, an oil price war has broken out and central banks are rushing to inject liquidity in its various forms.
It’s enough to make one wonder when the next horseman of the apocalypse is going to gallop over the horizon.
And certainly, this virus is nothing to take lightly, especially not for the elderly or those with underlying health issues. And the economic issues it will leave in its wake are sure to be challenging.
But that said, it’s time for us all to pull together and do what we can. Here in Canada, we’ve got a few advantages in our favour, not least of which is our embrace of just enough collectivism to work together when it’s important.
We’ve seen this play out before. Think back to the flood of 1997, and the stark policy and societal differences it revealed that differentiate us from our neighbours to the south. Like a virus, flood waters don’t recognize borders, they just keep rolling on.
Our American friends are a collection of rugged individualists that are loath to band together in anything but the greatest crisis. They’ll show up and sandbag their neighbour’s house to the point of exhaustion. But they won’t pay slightly higher taxes to build more robust flood infrastructure.
And when the flood waters hit Grand Forks, the results were tragic but inevitable. First the city flooded, then burned, then fell over. More than 20 years after the fact, perhaps enough time has passed to wryly note the only thing it didn’t do, per the comedy troupe Monty Python’s skit, is sink into the swamp.
Meantime, in Winnipeg, surrounded by the Red River Floodway that was the brainchild of Progressive Conservative Premier Duff Roblin, and the rapid-response Brunkild z-dike, the city, albeit nervously, continued to go to work. It’s not a perfect system to be sure, as farmers who have faced floodwater backup will tell you — but it is better than the alternative.
In a larger way, we’re seeing much the same thing play out as the health systems of the two nations grapple with the same virus.
At one point, British Columbia alone had tested more citizens than the entire U.S. American pundits have fretted that the country’s dysfunctional healthcare system was preventing citizens from being tested. As one put it, when a test costs $1,400 and being isolated at the hospital costs $5,000 a day, it’s little surprise many avoided getting tested, for fear of potential financial ruin.
By way of contrast, our publicly funded healthcare system tested widely. How effective that testing was can be seen in the medical community’s spotting of a cluster of cases from travelers from Iran, the first evidence that country, thousands of kilometers away, had a widespread problem.
The coming days and weeks won’t be pretty. At a minimum, we’re looking at widespread disruption. Schools have already been closed in Ontario and Alberta. Manitoba is following suit effective Mar. 23. Already some are losing work.
The name of the game now appears to be containment, slowing the spread so that the healthcare system can cope with those cases that take a more serious turn and require medical intervention and hospitalization.
For rural Manitoba, with an aging population and fewer healthcare resources, this is an issue that should be taken seriously.
Right now, the recommendations from the province are straightforward commonsense: stay home if you’re sick, wash your hands thoroughly and regularly, practice ‘social distancing’ and if you are sick, cough and sneeze into your sleeve or the crook of your elbow. At most the recommendations suggest keeping a bit more in the pantry just in case you need to remain isolated at home.
Not on the list: getting into a fistfight at Costco over the last bale of toilet paper or jamming into the local grocery store to pick the shelves clean.
It’s by sticking together, listening to the facts and advice of the proper authorities, and watching out for each other, that we’ll all get through this.
At its heart, that sense of community is the Canadian and Manitoban way.