As we mark 100 days since most Canadians began to self-isolate, we asked 18 people – writers, artists, educators, health care workers – to share their COVID-19 lockdown experiences and their hopes for our postpandemic world.
Jump to author: Tomson Highway • George Elliott Clarke • Kathleen Edwards • Cathy Crowe • Paul Brunet • Karen Kain • John Ralston Saul • Jann Arden • Colin Mochrie • Jim Balsillie • Alexander MacLeod • Joanne Liu • Esi Edugyan • Tanya Talaga • Kamran Khan • Ken Dryden • Jesse Thistle • Hayden King •
Tomson Highway is an author and playwright.
My partner and I have been wintering in Europe for the past 20 years, the first 14 in the South of France, and the next six in Italy, meaning to say that life couldn’t be more romantic for a couple of 36 years. And normally, we come back to Canada at the end of March.
This year, however, things were different. By the end of February, COVID-19 was making serious inroads in the north of Italy. Now a suburb of Italy’s largest city (Milan), Bergamo has become much like Oakville is to Toronto, or Surrey is to Vancouver. And Bergamo is where the parades of coffins that the world saw on TV were coming from.
Italians were terrified, as was the world. No big surprise that that region of the country was the first to go into lockdown. Planes were cancelled, borders closed. We, however, were far from Milan. We were in Naples in the south and thus quite distant from the epicentre of the epidemic. Still, by March 8, we realized that we had to act – quickly. In the midst of a virtual stampede of other travellers engaged in the same act of desperation, I stayed up all night trying to find two seats on a plane – any plane – that was leaving the country.
Air Canada, with whom we had booked our return flight for March 28, had just cut all its flights into and out of Italy. Fortunately, we just managed to find two seats on a Lufthansa flight that would take us from Naples to Munich and on to Montreal. Before we left, we went and saw a friend who lives in a village in the mountains above the Amalfi Coast town of Positano. When we left it, Naples was its usual hive of madness and bustle. That was March 9.
The next day, we went hiking on what is known as Il Sentiero degli Dei (the Path of the Gods), one of the world’s great hiking trails, which starts mere steps from our friend’s house. In the south of Italy, March is like June in the southern half of Canada, so we were in heaven. With the Tyrrhenian Sea sparkling emerald at our feet and the island of Capri a haze in the far background, who wouldn’t be?
On March 11, we took two small buses and a train back to Naples. In the three days of our absence from that fabulous city by the sea, it had become a ghost town, a virtual cemetery. Now just past mid-day, we made our lonely way up the hill to our apartment and started packing. And we flew off on March 12.
Arriving at our home in Gatineau at midnight, we discovered Sophie Grégoire Trudeau had the virus and that the schools had just closed. The next morning, the whole world was on fire. But we were now back in our home.
Our neighbourhood is a virtual garden, and going into 14-day quarantine was, for us, an absolute luxury. Having lost access to his swimming pool at the local athletic centre, his beloved bridge club and even physical contact with our grandchildren, my partner now does jigsaw puzzles at the dining room table. I sit at my grand piano in the living room behind him, playing Brahms Intermezzi and Tomson Highway country waltzes.
The world is burning. We weep for our friends in hell-bound Brazil, but can’t go there this year; the borders are closed, all flights grounded. But we, at our home here, still have our health and our joy. And that’s the best that we can do to help – spread our joy, make people laugh. Which is my specialty. I laugh 100 times a day. If I don’t, I get sick.
George Elliott Clarke was Canada’s seventh Parliamentary Poet Laureate (2016-17). His latest book is Portia White: A Portrait in Words, published by Nimbus.
I’d hoped to enjoy April’s absolute light! To see the tendrils of trees spring buds under a canopy of freshening raindrops.
But COVID-19 – the chestnut-shell-like, spiky pathogen – is “cancel culture” gone radically viral. Ended were face-to-face meetings; forbid were touchy-feely gatherings.
So, March 14, flying to Quebec City, I encountered homecoming spring breakers, flaunting tans, tattoos and mask-free faces. Returning to Toronto that night, my plane was desolate, the attendants disconsolate: Would they be laid-off – “jettisoned without a parachute”?
Far below, freezer trucks were already leaguing, in New York, to store the body-bag-camouflaged dead.
In Toronto, gearshifts slapped irritably into Park; streets slipped into torpor; capitalism itself went on taxpayer life-support.
However, to drive was still to court warfare: The new jobless, wallowing in bucket seats, gloated over seemingly ungoverned roads. Aimless, they’d double-park willy-nilly, peel off screeching U-turns, or speed exorbitantly, going nowhere – fast.
“Essential” or “non-essential”? The label decided who could work. Thus, libraries fell dark while liquor stores glittered like Oz.
Once a humdrum errand, to grocery shop was to enter Ali Baba’s cavern – a paradise of delights: One had to brave lineups for access – to cadge toilet paper and virus-slaying wipes.
Because history repeats itself as farce (Marx), simpletons schemed to seize their Churchill “moment”; to be a “wartime” leader.
One well-known know-nothing, echoing Marie Antoinette, advised, “Let the sick gulp bleach.”
Everywhere, senior-care homes – due to their decrepitude, their dirt, their cascades of deaths – emerged as hells-on-earth. Their governors gazed on, dazed. But we mustn’t misconstrue press conferences for caring.
Commands brayed like sirens: “Stay home, wash your hands, keep your distance!”
Enticed by emergency funds, and incited by dread of infection, citizens grudgingly complied.
Now what is left for a poet to do? This mid-June, this almost-summer, when untiring is death? And the libraries are locked down and the bookstores locked up?
Kathleen Edwards is a singer-songwriter and musician.
When I was 14, I found myself at summer camp contemplating ways to run away.
In my group of campers, I was the least liked, and thankfully, one of my cabin mates took me aside and told me the truth: I was being lazy.
I was the weakest paddler, I didn’t pull my weight, I complained and others had to compensate for me. Feeling sorry for myself, I fantasized about ways I could escape. But I decided to do the opposite; I decided to work. Hard. Harder than even the toughest kid.
In short order, I was rewarded with feeling included, with my self-esteem repaired. There remained a life lesson I have never forgotten.
Working hard, with purpose, is the most fulfilling and rewarding feeling a person can have. The shutdown due to COVID-19 has seriously messed with my way of being. Who am I if I can’t work hard? Money has never been a motivating factor in the commitment I’ve made to my work, but it does pay the bills.
Lately, I’ve been a musician with no gigs and the owner of a coffee shop nobody can sit in. Getting a CERB cheque goes against every entrepreneurial fibre of my being. I’m used to driving the van, loading my gear and showing up even when I’m sick. When I opened Quitters, I created a stereotypically cute local coffee shop, knowing full well that I would be cleaning the bathrooms. It is a privilege to say that my life’s work has been my choice, but the pandemic has removed my ability to go to work, and it’s done that for every single musician and performer in this country.
Music Canada recently surveyed music creators about the impact of COVID-19, asking if I would be more comfortable in venues “if there were regulations about the cleaning of dressing rooms and stage equipment.”
Are you kidding me? The problem isn’t cleanliness. It’s having an audience.
At Quitters, my job is to get my employees back to work so their jobs exist six months from now. Sure, we’ve put out a few more bottles of hand sanitizer and we limit how many people can come indoors, but we are open.
Just like Quitters Coffee, anyone who falls under the entertainment and live performance umbrella needs to get back to work. We’ve built our entire existence on working hard. We are the first people you ask to “play for free” and now we are bracing for being the last to go back to work. Come see us if you’re comfortable, stay home if you’re not, but let us work or be prepared for us to disappear altogether.
Cathy Crowe is a street nurse and visiting practitioner at Ryerson University.
Homelessness and housing affordability were already a national emergency before COVID-19. Shelters were a petri dish, waiting for a pandemic to roar through.
Lessons from SARS were not learned. When the pandemic hit, there was no national or local plan to ensure safe shelter with physical distancing, COVID-19 symptom screening or the testing of congregate settings such as shelters. For the first 50 days, the most basic of personal protective equipment was rationed in shelters. To this day, there is no mandated provision of free masks for people who are homeless. When libraries, community centres and coffee shops shut down, homeless people lost access to washrooms and handwashing.
Cities small and large scrambled for solutions. The ones that did it well leased empty hotel rooms and apartment buildings.
Shelters were less crowded, but in Toronto, we had to take the city to court to ensure two metres of physical distance between beds were enforced, and that no bunk beds would be used. By day 82 of the pandemic, when this ruling was officially communicated to shelters, 528 homeless people had been infected with COVID-19 and four had died.
Meanwhile, tent encampments proliferated across the country. I hardly recognize the streets of Toronto. We look like an American city that shows no regard for human rights.
The tsunami of job loss, economic evictions and increasing food costs is now evident in the lineups we see for free meals. It will soon lead to tent encampments numbering in the thousands.
Canada needs permanent and long-term COVID-19 relief, not daily federal announcements of short-term programs. The relief has to include increases in welfare, disability coverage and pensions.
We need an exit strategy that includes a national housing program, similar to the housing construction we witnessed after the Second World War. Cities must buy empty hotels and condos that are going into foreclosure and convert them to social housing. We must not move homeless people from hotels back into the same conditions that proliferate disease. After all, one person to one room and washroom is truly the only proper form of protection.
Paul Brunet is a lawyer with the Quebec Council for the Protection of Patients.
Quebec is slowly recovering from COVID-19.
Over the past 100 days, Premier François Legault and Horacio Arruda, the province’s Public Health Director, have fallen into the routine of making daily announcements and imposing different ways of diminishing COVID-19′s terrifying contamination of people, especially seniors with health conditions in long-term care homes. As of June 10, 90 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in the province have occurred in these homes.
Some questions will have to be answered eventually.
If the World Health Organization had told Western countries as early as Feb. 5 to identify and isolate COVID-19 patients, would Quebec and other jurisdictions in Canada have taken as long to take action in dealing with this pandemic? The United Nations’ Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, has asked the same question.
Quebec officially declared long-term care homes a COVID-19 priority on April 7, three months after the first notice on the matter by the WHO. The province has now set global and Canadian records for deaths among seniors in long-term care homes. More than 3,000 seniors have died of COVID-19 in Quebec alone.
Back in 2013, Canadian and Quebec agencies for public health had already instructed all Canadian and provincial health agencies to prepare for the next pandemic, in quite precise fashion: stock up on personal protective equipment and ensure adequate pandemic training has been given to medical and caregiving personnel.
How and why did the Canadian and Quebec health and political authorities miss the warning signs in the fight against COVID-19? The data were available since the beginning of February. How could they have neglected preparation for a pandemic, and why did they not start acting vigorously in nursing homes before the end of April? These questions have haunted me during these past 100 days, and will continue to.
Karen Kain is the artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada.
This pandemic has shaken so much of what we hold dear as human beings. The ability to gather together, to spend time with family and friends, to simply hug. We are social creatures forced to isolate and it has been hard for everyone.
For dancers, and all of us who work in the performing arts, it has denied us the very essence of what we do – to share the energy of a live performance with an audience. Performers are desperately missing the stage and arts administrators are faced with the huge financial challenge of trying to keep our organizations afloat.
I have faith we will get through this, but it is going to be a long haul. I also have faith in people’s need for the arts. The pandemic will not change that. In fact, isolation has revealed how much we need the very human connection a live performance delivers.
What do I think will be different postpandemic? Artists all over the globe have been so creative during this time of isolation, sharing their art online. It’s leading to lots of new ideas for how we can explore dance in the digital space and connect more.
There are many possibilities to explore, and I look forward to incorporating more digital experiences into our programming.
John Ralston Saul is the author of The Collapse of Globalism, co-chair of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship and president emeritus of PEN International.
What changes and what doesn’t will all depend on how seriously we take ourselves. We have had lots of quiet time to think about what is happening and why. Disturbing, tragic, difficult for many, but quiet time.
In fact, we have been living an intense and existential lesson in how federalism works, how the constitution works, what everybody does and how they do it. It certainly isn’t worth people dying. But we have all been learning about our role as citizens, as well as the role of everybody in public life when it comes to their responsibilities. Federalism really is a complicated system.
The rhetoric out there for decades has been that we need strong leadership, as if a Napoleon or even a Mussolini could solve our problems. Suddenly, we're having to understand and act based on how it really works. And as many of the mechanisms of unlimited individualism are being turned around into the mechanisms of citizen and governmental responsibility, we are all having to absorb how our actions can serve the public good. If that sticks, it will be a real change.
Only a fool can still believe the ideological arguments that government can’t play a major and essential role. The pretenses of globalism – that markets matter most and borders are dead – can no longer be taken seriously. These are changes in the public consciousness. But what do they really mean? Take one example: Governments say they will never again accept dependence on foreign sources for essential products. That would be a radical change in direction. I’d love to believe them.
Great crises can either lead to the worst of dogmatism and power, or to a remarkable clarification of our role as citizens and the precise role of every level of government.
Jann Arden is a singer-songwriter, 2020 inductee into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and star of the television series Jann.
I flew home from a job in the Bahamas on March 7. The flight was packed, but people were very calm and everything seemed “normal.” COVID-19 news had started making the rounds. There were so many disjointed reports coming at us so fast and furiously, I found it exhausting poring through all the information to find some sort of balanced picture of what was actually happening. We were all glued to the television, hoping it would simply “go away.” It didn’t and it hasn’t.
As grim as this sounds, while millions of people were converging (and that’s a very kind word for what happened) on the grocery stores, stocking up for who knew what for who knew how long, I was glad that my parents were both gone. And by gone, I mean dead. (I don’t know why people shy away from that word.) I said this out loud to myself several times: “Thank God you guys aren’t here to see this.” I talk to my parents all the time, my mom especially. My mother answers back in her own little way and I find it endlessly comforting.
I live in a rural area west of Calgary, so I know my isolation experience is completely different to someone who lives in a city or town. I have a lot of space out here, which is lonesome at times, but a blessing nonetheless. I have a five-pound dog who has reminded me that routine is paramount to one’s sanity. My connections with friends have kept me from feeling constantly anxious. The texting, video chats and phone calls have been beyond wonderful.
I think we all found out very early on that it wasn’t our “things” that held any value, but our friendships and our families. As the weeks have worn on, I’ve learned just how much I don’t need stuff. I’ve learned that worry is a liar. I’ve learned how much this world needs art and creativity.
COVID-19 has exposed a lot of gaping holes in our society. The Black Lives Matter movement has shown us the unjust reality that people of colour have faced for hundreds of years. It has been gut-wrenching, heartbreaking and eye-opening to realize that I have been a huge part of the problem. My complacency is something I will continue to work on for the rest of my life.
I, for one, am waking up to a new way of thinking about what my life is going to look like and the kind of person I want to be.
“A blessing and a curse,” my mother would say. And she’s not wrong.
Colin Mochrie is an actor and improviser.
Life is funny, isn’t it? One day I’m shooting a movie in Utah while in the midst of two separate improv tours; the next day, I’m in a demographic deemed vulnerable to a pandemic. Flying home to no hugs, no kisses and a 14-day quarantine signalled the beginning of my new reality.
The next 100 days were surprisingly busy. There were podcasts to record, meetings to have, Zoom calls to happily participate in, weekly dinner menus to prepare. A lot of ups and downs, anxiety and laughs.
There are pros, of course. Rest. Time with my family. Catching up on books, movies and TV shows. Pants are now optional.
The cons? Doing improv shows on Zoom, without audience laughter. Realizing that I don’t write, not because of a lack of free time, but because I’m lazy. Hearing this sentence every day: “You’re on mute!” (As contributed by my wife, the lovely Deb McGrath.) And, of course, the major one: It’s a pandemic!
My career consists of air travel and theatres. What will my future be like? Four-to-five hour airport lines? Theatres that are a third full with the audience appropriately physically distanced? I try to be optimistic about the unknown which, outside of the improv world, is not my default setting. So my immediate hope for the future is that we remember. Remember how unprepared we were. Remember those who stepped up and those who didn’t. Remember the people on the front lines who risked their well-being to give us a little normalcy, from the grocery-store workers to hospital staff and everyone in between. I hope we remember how we turned to movies, online concerts, comedy and dance for comfort, and realize, just maybe, that funding the arts isn’t frivolous.
Let’s remember how quickly the world started to heal itself from the beating we’ve given it and how little we had to do to start that healing. Remember that we are just renters here. Let’s give the next tenants something to look forward to.
Jim Balsillie is an entrepreneur and philanthropist.
When the early days of the lockdown forced everyone into retreat, I was fortunate to spend mine in a secluded property surrounded by nature. Still, the dominant mood of the first 100 days was a mix of feeling sombre and vigilant.
Sombre, because the government-mandated shutdown adversely affected so many friends and family members, and vigilant because I had to ensure my business interests were attended to and my broader policy initiatives advanced.
On that second front, I spent hours on long and sometimes arduous phone calls with government officials, urging them to recognize that Canadian innovators needed support, and that this policy-induced liquidity crisis could quickly turn into an insolvency crisis. I am concerned that, while important, income-support benefits were favoured over employment strategies in our COVID-19 recovery, as evidenced by the design of various federal relief programs. This could adversely affect our postpandemic economic recovery.
But I also remain optimistic, because the pandemic reopened the debate about what is necessary and what is possible. Canadians are now more aware of the protective and strategic functions of a sovereign country and the need to keep ours strong, high-functioning and equipped to confront global problems and drive large-scale positive action.
Canadians need not just jobs but also a stake in society. They need to find dignity in their work and deserve a standard of living that befits a Group of Seven country. It’s the only way to ensure this public-health crisis doesn’t turn into an economic and social crisis. Historically, pandemics have been markers of new beginnings and new ways of thinking. I know that Canada can take on the challenge of this fresh start.
Alexander MacLeod is a writer and a professor at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax.
Spring is difficult here. By far our worst season, some say it does not even exist in Atlantic Canada. Or that we have our own tortured version of it, not spring at all, but “sprinter,” a three-month slog through slow-melting snow, grey days and wind.
This year, spring was challenging for very different reasons. A deadly virus came and forced us to pull away from our work and our schools, our friends and families. The internet zoomed into the void. Experts told us to wash our hands, to take our masks off, then put them on again, become even more physically distant from each other. “Stay the blazes home!” our furious Premier shouted, and we immediately wrote songs, made T-shirts and brewed craft beer with his words.
But it wasn’t just that. Twenty-two people were murdered on a Saturday night and a Sunday morning, then a Cyclone helicopter crashed into the Ionian Sea, and a Snowbird fell out of the clear sky over Kamloops, B.C.
Constable Heidi Stevenson, 48. Sub-Lieutenant Abbigail Cowbrough, 23. Captain Jennifer Casey, 35. Brave people, innocent people, all from Nova Scotia, all working hard, all lost within a month. We couldn’t mourn them properly, though we tried our best. Natalie MacMaster played Jerry Holland with Emily Tuck. Look it up.
One hundred days down and another hundred to come. We can’t help but look forward. “When does it end?” “Will anything be the same?” Different questions, same answer: I don’t know and I don’t know.
A person imagines there are limits to how much one can endure and absorb, but then those imaginary limits are surpassed. And surpassed again. A pandemic, and at the same time, everything else. Halifax poet Brian Bartlett says it best: “Your brain is a mussel shell that will never hold the ocean.”
That shell in the sea is a great image for Atlantic Canada right now: beautiful in its stubborn resilience, stronger than you realize, and moved by powerful currents, both natural and human, that cannot be controlled.
Joanne Liu is a pediatric emergency specialist at Montreal’s Sainte-Justine Hospital and the former international director of Médecins sans frontières.
In March, the invisible enemy was at everyone’s door – including mine, at the monastic lakeside writers’ retreat I was attending just outside of Geneva.
I had been fortunate enough to get a year-long sabbatical to write a book, but when I saw people were dying in the thousands from COVID-19, I knew had to help. I had already seen too many people die alone in places such as Yemen, Liberia and Sierra Leone, as we worked to staunch cholera and Ebola.
From that version of isolation, I returned to Montreal and I self-isolated for 14 days. That was tough in its own way: While I was used to contributing concretely in health crises abroad, I was suddenly powerless in my own country, just waiting to get my hospital privileges reactivated.
Eventually, I was lucky to find a way to contribute. I offered advice to governments in Ottawa, Quebec and New Brunswick, and did shifts in the ER and in our devastated senior-care homes. I always thought this was the best way to own a crisis – taking calls and going out into the field.
But one memory kept racing through my mind during this pandemic, just as it did during the Ebola crisis: seeing a child in Liberia, bawling in his bed as his nose bled, surrounded not by loved ones, but by medical staff rushing around in triage mode. Human beings are not meant to die alone. Full stop.
The doctors who joined me then vowed to never feel so powerless again – to never be caught without diagnostic tests, treatments and vaccines. Yet here I was, in my own G7 country in 2020, where we were realizing too late that epidemics have no mercy – that if there are vulnerabilities in the chain, diseases will break them.
Hopefully, no one will ever judge any country overwhelmed by an epidemic again. It’s been a hard 100 days, but in the days still to come, we need to understand that we are only as strong as our weakest link. We’re not over COVID-19 until all of us are over COVID-19.
Esi Edugyan is an award-winning author based in Victoria. Her most recent novel is Washington Black.
In mid-March, I travelled to Indianapolis to give a speech, and on the morning of my departure awoke to discover the U.S. government had told its citizens abroad to return home immediately. The airport was in chaos. My flight was cancelled. I bought a second ticket with a five-hour layover in Seattle – at that time, the epicentre of the United States’ outbreak. When I finally arrived home – jet-lagged, nerves raw, exhausted – it was as if I had journeyed through alternate realms, not time zones. The world I had left behind seemed gone.
I went into self-isolation with my family and we have never really come out of it. For months now, our lives have played out no more than a few kilometres from our house. We home-school our children, we cook and bake, we text and talk to friends, we read and write. In many ways, it is a return to a simpler existence.
But I also recognize what is being lost. In the evenings, when we sometimes watch TV, my son, who is 5, will peer at the actors and ask, “Can they see us?” as if the show is yet another Zoom call. On the rare occasions they meet other children in the street, he and his sister are unsure how to behave. If life goes on this way, as it’s expected to for many months at least, there will be an entire generation of children who will need to be resocialized. To exist in the corporeal world – unpixelated, breathing, frighteningly real – had not seemed such a hard-won skill before.
It can feel as if a whole way of being is passing from us. But that presents an opportunity, too – as individuals, as societies – to cast off what isn’t working. We can take a hard look at dated systems – that have for too long fostered social inequality and environmental damage – and make an honest commitment to fixing them. We can look at others, and at ourselves, and choose to be kinder. We can find better ways.
Tanya Talaga is an Anishinaabe author and journalist, and the first woman of Ojibwe descent to deliver the CBC Massey Lectures. Her book Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City won the RBC Taylor Prize and the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing.
In The Before, life was frenzied. I was constantly on the move, flying across the continent nearly every week, speaking at universities, to communities and in theatres. I gave little thought to boarding a plane from Toronto to Vancouver, giving a speech, then flying home. That life came to a screeching halt in and around March 12, just as I was getting off a flight from Thunder Bay. The shock of what was to occur took days and weeks to register. My body and mind had to get used to being in one spot, not in constant motion.
I spent a lot of time staring at my computer screen, trying to address a series of looming deadlines in front of me. But in the beginning, there was nothing but anxiety, and it lasted weeks.
I looked out the window, a lot, unable to concentrate. My brain was having a hard time accepting what was happening. I told writer Thomas King I couldn’t seem to get any words to paper. I told him I was spending my days looking out the window. Mr. King replied, “Ninety-five per cent of writing is staring out the window.” I could hear this truth through the deadpan delivery in his e-mail. Then he made me a bet on who would finish their next book first. The loser of the bet gets a kitten. Mr. King’s kindness was a lift, a reminder that writing is a process, formed and turned over in your mind 1,000 times before it hits the page. It was okay to push back, take in the chaos surrounding us – to make sense of it. As writers, that is our job. I think I’ll name my kitten Thomas.
Kamran Khan is a physician, professor and CEO of BlueDot, a Toronto-based infectious-disease surveillance company that first sounded the alarm for COVID-19.
In my nearly 20 years of practice as an infectious disease physician, I’ve seen dangerous outbreaks increase in frequency, scale and impact. Before COVID-19, there were viruses such as Zika, Ebola, Chikungunya, MERS, H1N1 influenza, SARS and West Nile, to name a few. And of all of these emerging pathogens, roughly three-quarters originated in animals before they made the leap into human populations.
With this pandemic, Mother Nature is trying to tell us something: We are all in this together. And by all, I don’t just mean the people living on this planet, but every system of life. When we disrupt wildlife ecosystems and industrialize the production and consumption of livestock and wild animals, we increase our exposure to microbes that could spark the next deadly pandemic. While we are currently preoccupied with getting ourselves through COVID-19, this pandemic presents a rare opportunity for us to reflect upon its root causes. If we fail to understand and mitigate the global drivers of pandemics, we may find ourselves in another lockdown far sooner than we would like.
COVID-19 has also revealed that in our hyperconnected world, outbreaks move incredibly fast. If we want to stay a step ahead, we are going to have to move even faster. This is the challenge we are faced with at BlueDot. We want to harness the power of data, computing, and human and artificial intelligence to quickly find solutions to stop the global and local spread of disease. In looking to the near future, we will need to use smarter, data-driven systems that can empower the whole of society – not just governments, but also health care systems, private enterprises and the public – to increase our readiness and resilience when faced with future pandemics.
Ken Dryden is a former goalie for the Montreal Canadiens, an MP and cabinet minister, and author whose most recent book is Scotty: A Hockey Life Like No Other.
I am 72. One of the vulnerable for the first time in my life.
I’m still learning the difference between important and essential. I have to see my friends. No, actually I don’t. I can’t live without my games to watch. Yes, I can. Not seeing kids, grandkids, it’s really hard. But for 100 days, we’ve done what all of us until 100 days ago believed impossible. We’ve learned to be amazing.
Now, it will get harder. In the past, when we’ve done something amazing, we’ve been rewarded. We’ve earned the right to ease up and smell the coffee. Now we say we have cabin fever, as if we’ve earned the right to go out and feel the sunshine in the ways we always have. But COVID-19 doesn’t respect human logic.
We’re not yet in the third period of this test. More likely we’re in the second, maybe even the first. So we adapt.
A few worries: believing it’s over before it’s over – the big undoing in any test. Mass gatherings.
One other: There are a lot of bad ways to go. One of them is, after many decades of life, to spend your few last days, still alive, shut off from those who made those decades worthwhile.
In these 100 days, things worked best when science and humans have been at the centre, when the political and the ideological haven’t. When we’ve been humble and respectful, knowing what’s bigger than we are. When we’ve understood we’re all connected. That this really does require everyone. I’m okay if you’re okay, and I’m not okay if you’re not okay.
We’ve learned since the Second World War that when more is possible – goods, services – more becomes the norm. Now, when less is possible – can less become the norm? Or when different becomes possible, can different be the norm?
Maybe the most important change we are learning each day. Because there will be other pandemics, and something bigger – climate change – is ahead. The impossible may not be impossible.
Amazing is possible.
Jesse Thistle is the author of From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way.
I believe, despite the horrible fear and death caused by COVID-19, that good has come out of it. That things will change in our world permanently postpandemic. One change should be in how we provide rapid housing for homeless people.
Since the early 1990s, more and more homeless people have populated streets and shelters. This increase has run in tandem with a reduction in co-operative housing construction and the increased building of condominiums. Add to that the rental apps, such as Airbnb, and there’s been a large reduction in rentable space for Canadians.
Shelters have had to bear the brunt of this. Housing-sector scholars, like me, have long warned that high population densities in shelters create conditions where deadly pathogens can colonize and explode. We’ve also noted that homelessness could be solved and shelter densities lowered if we would adopt a scheme of “Rapid Housing First” – providing housing to homeless and unhoused individuals without conditions.
Pundits have long cried that Housing First couldn’t be instituted on the scale we were asking for. Then COVID-19 hit. The homeless were suddenly seen as threats to middle-class health, and society moved rapidly to house them to reduce the chances of shelters becoming vector sites for illness. Cities such as Toronto and Vancouver rented entire hotels to house the homeless.
Doctors had more “pull,” it seems, than scholars – they mobilized and actualized a change we’d been after for years. And don’t think politicians did this from the goodness of their hearts – they did it out of fear and to protect taxpayers. Within a few weeks of COVID-19′s presence in Canada, we now have scores of data that prove homelessness can be solved.
I believe the homeless hotels will remain, that cities have learned a lesson and will keep the hotels as permanent housing-transition sites, and that they will find the money for further Housing First solutions.
But maybe I am too hopeful.
Hayden King is Anishinaabe from Beausoleil First Nation. He is the executive director of the Yellowhead Institute at Ryerson University.
Nearly a decade ago, I was offered some tobacco seeds. I tried to plant them occasionally but would forget to water them, or would forget about them altogether. I eventually gave the seeds to a colleague and was surprised a few weeks later when I opened my office door to see a little plant, glowing green. I took it home and eventually harvested the leaves, earning a new seed pod.
When this pandemic forced my office door closed, those seeds were planted at my home. After 100 days, they’ve transformed into a garden of glowing green. As one of the most important medicines, traditional tobacco, or semaa, helps in amplifying gratitude, speaking to ancestors and ensuring that the world continues on. Before the pandemic, I was often too busy to fulfill these basic obligations, consumed with meetings and deadlines, catching the bus and making it home for bedtime stories.
I think that has been true for many of us – finding it too easy to ignore or delay ceremonies and thanks-giving because of a pace of life measured by productivity. (I wonder if a variation of this general condition was the source of the pandemic.)
But with a second chance to learn how to grow from seed, I have the privilege to move more slowly and pay closer attention. As the tobacco begins to flower and restrictions ease, I’ve started delivering plants to friends and family in the hopes they might harvest the medicine like I did.
When the pandemic ends, I hope that the tobacco might be a vaccine, of sorts, for any threat of renewed forgetting.
Correction (June 21, 2020): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated where the Snowbird plane crashed.
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