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Do you know your ABCs? Then, sing them twice while washing your hands to scrub off the coronavirus.  (Mariann Roberts)

Waging war on COVID-19

How Canada’s efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus
compare to what other countries are doing
By Mariann Roberts
Disclaimer: This article is up to date as of March 20; with the rapidly evolving
events of this emergency, many things will have changed by the time you read it.

AS the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread around the world, Canada is taking aggressive measures to stop, or at least slow, the virus from spreading. 

From Prime Minister Justin Trudeau self-isolating to school and university classes and events being cancelled, to cinemas, restaurants and even liquor stores shutting down or reducing service, to the U.S.-Canada border closing, it looks as if we are doing everything we can to slow the spread before we reach a crisis at the level of China’s (more than 82,000 cases) or Italy’s (over 41,000).

The term “social distancing” has quickly become the phrase of the year, and it is crucial for everyone’s health and safety that we all practise social distancing, to flatten the curve of this disease before it’s too late.

But will social distancing be enough?

If we all play by the rules, it can be. If not, we may be faced with more extreme measures.

Donald G. McNeil Jr. is a science and health reporter for the New York Times, who specializes in plagues and pestilence. He has covered diseases such as AIDS, Ebola, malaria, swine and bird flu, mad cow disease, and SARS.

Talking about the current emergency with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, he said that a healthy person isolated at home with a sick person may be at risk, too – to say the least.

“You don’t want infected people, or suspected infected people, with their families,” he said. “They’ll just pass it on to them.”

It only makes sense that people are most likely to transmit the disease to those with whom they live, and usually this means family. So, the most effective way of stopping the virus is to follow China’s extreme but effective isolation measures, McNeil argued.

One necessary step is frequent testing for fever. In China, any time someone goes out, when they return to their apartment building, their temperature is taken. If they have a fever, they’re sent to something called a fever clinic.

The second step is to eliminate home isolation for anyone who tests positive for the disease. (Social distancing is still crucial for everyone else.) In China, the infected are moved to large gymnasiums or stadiums with beds and highly-protected medical staff.

“That is the key element,” he said. “There is no home isolation. Seventy-five to 80 per cent of the transmission in China was in family clusters … and they knew they had to stop that, if they were going to stop the disease.”

China has had great success in slowing down the spread of COVID-19, with only 13 new cases being reported as of March 18, and two consecutive days with no new cases, March 19, 2020.


Active cases decline in China as of March 18, 2020.  (Worldometer)

Daily new cases decline in China as of March 18, 2020.  (Worldometer)


Other countries, such as Italy and Iran and others, continue to face a steep uphill battle.



Active cases in Italy continue to skyrocket as of March 18, 2020. (Worldometer)


Daily new cases in Italy remain on the rise as of March 18, 2020. (Worldometer)


So far, Canada has not made any announcements about infected people being quarantined outside of the home.

If we all take social distancing and proper hygiene practices seriously, we may be able to contain the virus before we get to that point. The Washington Post gives an easy-to-follow visual representation of how effective social distancing can be.

Though the social isolation may bring anxiety and loneliness, it is necessary if we want to keep the situation from escalating.

“The isolation definitely makes me anxious because of how serious the situation is progressing,” said Concordia University student accounts cashier Julia Saporito. “But I also think it’s necessary.

“I feel it’s important for everyone to do their part in this and listen to our governments, the World Health Organization, et cetera, because these measures are obviously put in place for a reason. They are not put in place to scare us … but to slow the spread of the virus.”

March 18, Saporito was told that she and other Concordia support staff would be working on a rotation-basis, meaning she will be working from home most of the time.

Saporito says she understands that, while social isolation might not be enough to completely contain the virus, it is enough to slow it down, and that is critical.

“I think our government is doing a great job of closing things down while our cases are still low, so that we avoid massive jumps in cases such as those in China and Italy.”

Where does this leave Canadians? For many, it simply means washing our hands, keeping our social distance and waiting. Waiting for instructions, waiting for further closures and recommendations, and waiting to see how far the spread of this disease will go.

I’ll leave with this mildly cheesy, but increasingly important note. Like it or not, we’re all in this together. We may be physically separated, but that doesn’t mean we can’t (or shouldn’t) band together.

And keep in mind those who are most at risk – the elderly and those with compromised immune systems and pre-existing medical conditions. If you feel sick (even a little bit) self-isolate.

Don’t leave your home unless absolutely necessary, frequently wash your hands (for 20 seconds each time) and maintain a distance of two metres from other people, even if you are healthy. If you think you may have COVID-19, use this self-assessment tool, and call 811 (not 911).

And, if you’re healthy and going to the store for supplies, please leave some toilet paper, rice, pasta, frozen food and canned goods for the rest of us.

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