We’re going to learn a lot about ourselves, this week. We’re going to learn whether we have the discipline to temporarily cut ourselves off, each from the other, to prevent a contagion from killing us by the thousands.
If we succeed, the new coronavirus outbreak in Canada will have a profile similar to that of South Korea, which appears to have limited the impact through aggressive testing and social distancing.
If we fail, then our future could resemble Italy today, where there are so many very sick people that doctors must decide who warrants intensive medical care, and who must be left to their fate.
“Now is the time to pull out all the stops to flatten the curve,” Health Minister Patty Hajdu declared, Monday, acknowledging that the social distancing required to beat the coronavirus would require “much personal sacrifice.”
But in fact, the sacrifice will be least for those who have most—something we all need to remember—and nothing at all compared to sacrifices in the past.
Each day brings new restrictions, though different jurisdictions are moving at different speeds – Quebec forcing more closings than Ontario, for example – in an effort to limit the spread of the virus. But ultimately it will be up to each of us to beat this thing. For some, it will be much easier than for others.
If your biggest challenge right now is looking after a child whose school has closed while also working from home, count yourself lucky.
Cashiers at supermarkets can’t work from home. In an economy that may be crashing, retail workers don’t have the job security of knowledge workers. Vulnerable people in nursing homes feel cut off from their families. Workers in those homes, health-care workers and everyone who supports them are at much greater risk of infection.
For the rest of us, the challenge is to give up going to restaurants, to not visit each other, to not hang out at the mall, to keep a friendly distance.
Some businesses are helping by closing their doors voluntarily, even as governments struggle to keep up.
The federal Liberals completely contradicted their own message, Sunday, as reporters and cabinet ministers crowded together in an embarrassingly unsafe scrum, where, Justice Minister David Lametti and Tourism Minister Mélanie Joly failed utterly to explain why the federal government was not warning people who arrived at airports about the need to self-isolate.
Frustrated mayors and premiers vowed to send their own people out to greet the returnees, if the feds weren’t up to the job.
On Monday, the Liberal government closed the border completely to foreigners, other than U.S. citizens. That’s a huge hole, because so many Americans cross the border into Canada every day, and also because the U.S. federal government doesn’t appear to be nearly as on top of the situation as other governments.
But closing the Canada-U.S. border would be economically ruinous. If that day comes, it will be a grim day.
Should governments be going further, faster? Should all restaurants and bars be closed immediately? Should all nonessential retail operations be curtailed? Should we take Italian-style measures now, to prevent an Italian-level crisis later?
The best we can do is trust the advice of public-health officials, hoping that they and leaders in government always err on the side of caution, and accepting that there is no getting through this without sacrifice.
Those who are older understand how mild these sacrifices truly are. The Baby Boomers are the children of Canadians who lived through the Great Depression and the Second World War. Our parents told us what it was like to live in a time when 30 per cent of the labour force was out of work. They told us what it was like living through wartime rationing, and not knowing if your son or brother or father would come home one day or be buried in a foreign land.
So shame on us if we aren’t able to buckle down for a few weeks, or even a few months, to beat this thing. But I’m betting that Canadians will do whatever it takes to bend the curve on infections.
All we ask is that our governments not drop the ball.
Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters. Sign up