This is a report from the besieged city, a report from the besieged world. Toronto, usually vibrant with life, has become nearly a ghost town. The crowded streets and highways blocked by traffic jams are now almost empty.
Merely a few cars pass by and one can see just sporadic pedestrians. Only the basic services, institutions, and companies work to support the normal functioning of the city.
The strict quarantine rules have been introduced at midnight of March 26th. Until then, precautions had been mostly ignored, and many people supposed to enter a 14-day self-isolation period did not comply with the rules, even going shopping.
Most of the residents stay now in their homes. However, the construction companies are still working – Toronto has been notoriously one big construction and demolition site for several years.
The provincial government has provided a list of essential businesses. Interestingly, it includes marijuana products retailers. In grocery stores, new rules for sales and personal contact have been introduced, the shelves are somewhat bare but the initial panic has subsided, there are no gigantic queues and mass buying of goods anymore.
Nevertheless, the situation is becoming more and more dramatic by the hour. Until the end of last week, tens of thousands of passengers landing at Canada’s largest airport Pearson International in Toronto were just asked a few questions, handed booklets on the coronavirus, and carelessly released from the airport. Last Saturday, an elderly woman, who had been already suffering from a very advanced state of illness, arrived here on a domestic flight, only to die several hours later.
The Liberal government of Justin Trudeau is not doing a very good job. He has assigned $82 billion to help the closed businesses, unemployed Canadians, and the resources needed to fight the epidemic, but he also used this opportunity to try to seize the absolute power in the country by obtaining the “carte blanche” for all financial and political decisions until the end of the next year. The Liberals do not have a majority government, and this power grab under the cover of a dramatic crisis has been received very negatively, not only in the opposition circles. This attempt failed due to the Conservative opposition. The aid package had been approved by Parliament, but only after a turbulent meeting lasting until 6 am.
Over the past two days, the number of people infected with the COVID-19 virus has almost tripled, from one thousand four hundred to more than four thousand. The mortality rate is also rising worryingly fast. Nurses and medical staff get infected by the virus. This is a shock to the majority of the population because just two weeks ago it was a common belief that Canada would be able to handle the pandemic perfectly. It was only the growing number of patients in the United States and the suspension of all sports and entertainment events that held back this optimistic attitude.
Now, nobody says that we are well prepared; there is a lack of protective equipment in hospitals, despite the previous experience with the SARS epidemic in 2003. It is difficult to enforce all the emergency regulations. An example of this is the absence of adequate controls at the airports, and an undisciplined approach to quarantine. Even last week, every single day, dozens of asylum seekers, often without any documents, illegally, with the help of the RCMP, had been crossing the border between the USA and the province of Quebec at Roxham Road. The suppression of facts, biased approach, and manipulative attitude of the mainstream media are also worrying.
Despite the previous chaos and fears that the spread of the pandemic will get out of control, Canadians are doing well and are not losing their spirit. Everyone is holding their breath, a little in order to not spread the virus, and a little in the hope that the whole nightmare will not last too long. The prognoses, however, are not the best.