Keeping distance from others as a way to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 ramped up across Canada on Thursday as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife went into precautionary self-isolation, major events were cancelled, and stock markets continued their downward spiral amid growing concerns about the pandemic.
Examples of social distancing, which experts say is one of the most effective ways of curtailing the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus, were on full display.
The first ministers’ meeting in Ottawa was cancelled, as were the Juno Awards scheduled for the weekend in Saskatoon, while the National Hockey League suspended its season.
The Toronto Raptors advised players, coaches and travelling staff to go into self-isolation for 14 days. The advice followed Monday night’s Raptors game against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City and the NBA’s decision to suspend its season because a Jazz player had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Canada has recorded a single death — an elderly nursing home resident in B.C. — among about 149 confirmed cases of COVID-19, which mostly produces mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. Public health authorities warn that for people aged 65 and over or with compromised immune systems, the illness can be more severe.
World Health Organization authorities suggested keep at least one metre apart from others.
While Trudeau had no symptoms, he opted to work from home after his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, showed mild flu-like signs, including a low fever, late Wednesday night. She had been in London for a speaking engagement, and was at home awaiting test results.
Hard-hit countries such as China and Italy, which has now all but locked down its entire population of 60 million, have taken stringent measures to keep people apart. Canada’s response so far has been far more moderate, but that has begun to change dramatically.
As Manitoba and Saskatchewan reported their first cases and Ontario uncovered 18 more, including one baby, Trudeau called off a planned appearance at the Public Health Agency of Canada and the scheduled First Ministers’ meeting in Ottawa.
“I was looking forward to sitting down with premiers and Indigenous leaders later today,” Trudeau said in a tweet. “Given the circumstances, we’ll be postponing our meeting.”
New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh said he, too, would work from home after he felt unwell, though he said doctors didn’t think it was COVID-19.
While Ontario Premier Doug Ford urged people to enjoy their March break travels, Quebec Premier Francois Legault, whose province has 13 cases, ordered government employees returning from travel abroad to self-isolate for 14 days. Legault urged other travellers to do the same. Quebec also asked organizers to cancel all indoor events where more than 250 people were expected.
On the stock markets, so-called “circuit breakers” kicked in for 15 minutes to halt another precipitous sell-off as the economic toll of the virulent disease continued to mount. The ongoing rout came 12 hours after U.S. President Donald Trump severely curtailed travel from Europe, but offered few new measures to mitigate the economic impact of the outbreak.
Canada’s main stock index plunged almost 10 per cent by early afternoon, and the loonie’s slide against the U.S. dollar continued.
Other countries have been stepping up their efforts at social distancing. The U.S. Congress was shutting the Capitol and all House and Senate office buildings to the public until April. Several American politicians have already self-quarantined.
Politicians in Europe, Iran and China are among the estimated 126,000 people worldwide infected with the coronavirus, with more than 4,600 deaths reported. More than half the known patients have recovered.
Several countries have also hardened their borders in hopes of stemming the tide of infections. The Czech government declared a state of emergency and said it was reinstating checks at its borders with Austria and Germany and barring travellers from 13 at-risk countries.
Norway and Lithuania shut down kindergartens, schools and universities for at least two weeks, while the Norwegian government said employees at work had to keep at least one metre apart. Britain, which is exempt from the U.S. travel ban, has so far urged people to wash their hands but was now expected to take further measures. The U.K. has 456 confirmed cases and eight deaths.
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press