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Canada closes U.S. border amid coronavirus pandemic

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Image: The White House/Flickr

On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the world faces a global emergency in form of a COVID-19 virus pandemic. Monday, March 16, the prime minister announced a national state of emergency and urged Canadians and foreign tourists to "stay home." And on March 18, for the first time, Canada closed the U.S. border to all non-essential travel. 

Just like that, Canada put up a "closed" sign. Goodbye Juno Awards! Goodbye NBA March Madness! Goodbye St Patrick's Day! Everything is cancelled. Expressways are almost empty. Closed schools and daycares mean that parents are working from home, with their employers' blessings, as a patriotic duty. Some workers in our fragmented gig economy are scrambling to adapt.  

Instead of going out, we're all staying at home, washing our hands, avoiding crowds and covering our coughs -- all to avoid the spread of COVID-19, a rose-ringed coronavirus that can survive on hard surfaces (like walls) and that, in vulnerable people, can go from sniffles to pneumonia in a scant day or two.

For a week, Canadians have been following WHO's advice about slowing down the virus, with self-isolation and scrupulous hygiene. In this way, even if the virus spreads, we hope slow dissemination means that we'll have enough ventilators and ICU beds to accommodate all of the worst afflicted as they are affected. The U.S. finally just adopted this strategy.  

Italy is suffering a high mortality rate because cases of the virus multiplied exponentially, leaving doctors in some places with more patients than ventilators. South Korea has kept its mortality rate low by mounting a massive effort to test every single resident.
    
While most Canadians have retreated to our homes in "self-isolation," not everyone can shelter safely where they are. Supermarket workers are on the front lines. We all rely on nurses, doctors, cleaners and other medical caregivers to stay on the job. Elders in long-term care long for their grandchildren and adult children, who only wish they could visit. Travellers flood social media with questions about how they can protect themselves in transit.

Inadequate information can make people panic at the first sign of any cold or flu symptoms, despite the number of viruses that cause sniffles and sneezes. Public demand for the COVID-19 test is huge, out of concerns both personal and social, as universal testing elsewhere reveals non-symptomatic cases who act as carriers.   

With COVID-19, apparently, breathing is the main vulnerability. The Australian government warns that, for some patients, a COVID-19 infection can become pneumonia swiftly. That's why the widely recommended Alberta Health Services online screening app starts patient assessment by asking bluntly,  


    "Are you experiencing any of the following?:        

  • severe difficulty breathing (e.g., struggling for each breath, speaking in single words)
  • severe chest pain
  • having a very hard time waking up
  • feeling confused
  • lost consciousness"

Seems to me that any of those signs should be reason enough for a patient to phone 811 for health advice, if not 911 for an ambulance. However, if we are "flattening the curve," we want to catch infections before people reach such levels of distress. And the U.S. is about to show us all the importance of such caution.      

"Is COVID-19 Donald Trump's Hurricane Katrina?" asks a Los Angeles Times op-ed, pointing out that "as recently as two weeks ago" the president was saying that the coronavirus "was largely an invention of the media and Democrats." Although 45 has finally started to take the virus seriously, warns the article, "Far too many of us will, literally, never recover from the pandemic he did so little to mitigate." 

"Faced with the most dangerous threat to American life since at least the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the 45th President made matters worse," reported TIME magazine. "Experts project that COVID-19, the respiratory disease that corona-virus causes, could afflict millions worldwide and kill hundreds of thousands of Americans."

Finally, on March 13, the U.S. announced a national state of emergency. "Trump faced pressure to demonstrate a handle on the crisis," reported CNN, "... after a widely derided prime-time address on [March 11], that preceded a historic plunge in stocks." Within three days, 48 states had declared states of emergency, to claim federal funds.

With the president sowing disbelief that COVID-19 presents a real threat, young folks all across the U.S. blithely went out and partied last weekend, ignoring social distancing, says The Atlantic. There's an end-of-the-world-giddiness, noted staff writer Joe Pinsker. "But ... also extremely weak justifications for a choice that ultimately puts one's short-term social enjoyment ahead of the health -- and maybe even lives -- of countless people who are more vulnerable to the disease."

One reason Americans are so careless, suggests Pinsker is that they are " ... lacking clear and forceful guidance from President Trump and his administration ... " That confusion is likely to increase, with news reports that the chair of the Senate intelligence committee Richard Burr sold $1.7 million in stocks just before the stock markets plummeted because of the coronavirus.    

So many other motives blur U.S. policies on COVID-19 that the U.S. has fallen dangerously far behind other nations in trying to flatten the curve. Just as the coronavirus has revealed the weakness of economic globalization, so its exponential growth in the U.S. should be a true test of for-profit healthcare.  

Meanwhile, Canada has negotiated an unprecedented agreement that restricts most U.S. residents from crossing into Canada. For the first time, Canada has closed it's border to the U.S. Heaven help the Americans who can't afford medical care in the States.

Award-winning author and journalist Penney Kome has published six non-fiction books and hundreds of periodical articles, as well as writing a national column for 12 years and a local (Calgary) column for four years. She was editor of Straightgoods.com from 2004-2013.

Image: The White House/Flickr

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