Isolation is the new normal

, , Comments Off on Isolation is the new normal

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is getting an early shot at the new form of communication. Self-isolation has not prevented him from getting his message out.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on March 23, 2020.

OTTAWA—Social distancing to a politician is akin to a hand sanitizer ban for germaphobes.

Politicians thrive on contact with people.

But in the new normal, public figures may have to learn to campaign in a germ-free bubble.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is getting an early shot at the new form of communication. Self-isolation has not prevented him from getting his message out.

His government’s handling of the situation to date has the potential to enhance his political capital.

Daily press availability and the major national stimulus package could calm the growing fears of worried Canadians.

Trudeau’s new beard has been graying quickly, given the nature of the stresses he must be feeling at his wife’s side while she manages her infection. The graying has added a hint of gravitas to what is obviously a very grave situation.

I was a latecomer to the panic room. But I could not responsibly ignore the appeal of Canada’s foreign minister to get back home.

Last week, I was hoping to continue plans for a two-week anniversary cruise, but the request by the Canadian government to get back home could not be ignored.

My husband and I managed to get wait-listed on one of the last international flights still landing in Ottawa, and after traveling for two days, arrived to a ghost town last Tuesday.

It is worth mentioning that Canadian border officials appear a lot more prepared to manage this crisis than our American counterparts.

En route to Canada, we transited through two American airports, landing first in San Francisco and next in Washington.

In neither airport was there a single reference, verbal or written, to the coronavirus. We were not asked whether we had experienced a cough, or any symptoms. Nor were we warned to self-isolate when we reached our final destination.

It was a totally different story when we arrived in Canada. We were questioned at the border about health symptoms and travel history, and then given an information sheet with all of the contact numbers for reporting any potential infection.

We were asked to undertake a voluntary 14-day self-isolation plan, and signed a form agreeing to do so.

The Canadian message is clear. In order to stem the flow of the virus, we all need to limit social contact as much as possible. But the same warnings do not seem to have made their way to some parts of the United States.

An American friend just underwent a mastectomy operation in Houston and she actually went out to celebrate the surgery at an Irish bar with her family on St. Patrick’s Day. She seemed oblivious to the notion that her own health could be at risk by gathering in a bar.

Most Canadian bars and restaurants are closed but it seems to be business as usual in some parts of the United States.

An aggressive Canadian lockdown may limit the spread here, but the laissez-faire approach of some American states could have a negative rebound effect on our country. As of last Thursday, there were 736 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Canada, while in the United States, the reported number of infections surpassed 11,000.

The difference in infection rate may be partially explained by the capacity of a public health system to respond in a coordinated fashion. Many Americans have no health care, and they are obviously at risk when it comes to curbing the transmission curve.

China is now in recovery mode but, according to media reports, hospitals across the United States have been asking health professionals to reuse single-use masks.

Beaches in Florida are still packed with young people who appear to be generally ignoring the warning to stay home. And bars in New York are still operating, with state governor Andrew Cuomo stating publicly that he will not exercise his legal options to keep people home.

At home, the prime minister is considering all options, including the implementation of a War Measures Act to ensure compliance with social distancing requests.

The thought of spending months in isolation is not something anyone looks forward to.

Netflix has been bending under the weight of millions of downloaders. The strain on their system has been so great that they just eliminated high definition transmission in favour of preserving bandwidth. Being restricted in close quarters can also be a challenge for families.

Puzzles and games have been flying off store shelves, purchased by harried parents looking to keep their children busy.

Isolation is the new normal.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.