Living in western Canada, the coronavirus pandemic has been slowly creeping into our consciousness. The news reports out of China and South Korea started small in December and January, then Vancouver had its first case around January 27th1. While we watched the reports of active cases in the Lower Mainland grow slowly, the virus took hold in other parts of the world and has spread quickly ever since. In the Okanagan, the mindset of people seemed to be that the virus was a concern around Vancouver and then everywhere else in the world.
That all seemed to change this past week.
At the start of the week, I began hearing stories about long lines at Costco and other retailers for toilet paper. Stores were sold out of it by early afternoon. I’m not sure what triggered that response, but I had decided to wait longer to go do my own grocery shopping.
When I started looking for toilet paper on Thursday, there was none to be had. I eventually ordered it on Amazon, but my order still hasn’t shipped and it’s been four days. Who knows when it will actually ship now. On Friday, I went to the Save-On Foods near me. Someone commented in the parking lot, “I wouldn’t bother if I was you.” I walked in the store with my daughter, saw the line for the checkout, and promptly turned around. The line on one side went out to the produce area; the other line on the other side of the store wrapped around through the dairy section. Good luck getting any groceries that afternoon.
Through the week, lots of other things shifted. The NBA started the week talking about playing without fans to postponing the season on Wednesday night. Most of the other major leagues and college sports quickly followed suit the next day. On Friday, any sports league that hadn’t cancelled, did so, leaving a lot of space on the airwaves to fill.
It seemed to be the stretch of events that took it from, “we should take precautions,” to “this is serious, and if we don’t do this now, a lot more people will die.”
Locally, we had a lot of other changes happen to try and prevent the virus from spreading. The mall stopped using serving trays in the food court, not allowing the kid rides to be used, no strollers or wheelchairs to be rented, and closed the parenting room. The movie theatres were closing off every other row of seating for movies, and now are closed. H2O, our large water centre, was restricting how many can be in the water at once, but now is closed. Plus the other restrictions that have been put into place nationally, like places refusing to fill personal mugs and restaurants limiting people or closing altogether.
It’s all rather surreal to watch take place. I thought life had changed after the events of 9/11. The messages that we heard then was that life needs to go on. The extra annoyances of going through the stricter airport security were for the safety of everyone. With the coronavirus, life really is going to be changing for everyone that lives in a community.
That’s not a bad thing though. At the beginning of the year, like so many others, I thought the coronavirus wasn’t going to be that big of a deal and disappear as the weather warms. I still hope that it does disappear as the weather warms, but I’ve realized this is something that can’t be avoided. It shouldn’t be avoided either.
We’re all tired of talking about the coronavirus, but as long as people are still dying from it, we need to continue talking about it. It’s starting to bring to light so many other issues in our North American/western societies. Namely how many germs are around us and how few people actually wash their hands. How unprepared we are to handle these situations compared to southeast Asian countries (facilities and flexibility of policies as situations change.)
It’s also bringing to light other concerns over income inequality and how brittle our society is financially. Governments pausing mortgage payments, rental evictions, pausing rent payments, and giving immediate assistance to people who are losing their jobs or income over this virus. Stores are having to develop procedures to ration key supplies that are being hoarded, like toilet paper, and put a stop to the blanket purchasing of other goods for people to profit off of later (hand sanitizer, and a local case of a couple buying all the meat in a grocery store.)
As difficult as these times are going to be, I want to think this one event is going to be a net positive for us all. We can all watch from around the world at how we’re fighting the coronavirus and work together to develop better treatments, vaccines, and policies. That will help us now and for future outbreaks with other viruses. We can also watch at how everyone is making the best of it, whether it’s singing on Italian balconies, watching a penguin walk through an aquarium, or discovering how kids avoided homework in Wuhan.
Eventually, I think this will open the door to a more serious discussion on universal basic income around the world, employees working remotely or fewer hours in a work week, and other changes at a local level. More immediately, I think there may be a rise in creativity on various platforms as people fill their time while in self-quarantines, and a rise in entrepreneurs to find ways to make money in new ways while out of work.
As the situation improves in China and South Korea, there is hope that we can get through this. We have to remember that there are two things humans have been very good at through history: surviving and creating.
COVID-19 will not slow us down.
There are many resources online about what we can or should be doing during this crisis. Here are a few items that have helped me cope and also help me understand how something like this can happen.
Remember: You Don’t Control What Happens, You Control How You Respond – Ryan Holiday, bringing some tools from Stoicism to help us all.
From Vox, a story about how the virus transferred from animal to human with COVID-19 and SARS before it:
From 3Blue1Brown, a video behind the mathematics of epidemics and why they are so difficult to control:
- Read more about the timeline in this article from the National Post: What we know about Canada’s coronavirus cases: 31 per cent over 60 and 13 per cent hospitalized ↩