Opinion: Get accustomed to self-isolation

Whenever the COVID-19 crisis is over, this will be the week likely to be remembered as when short-term hopes confronted the long-term reality.

It wasn’t just Donald Trump over the weekend, adjusting his back-to-normal deadline well past Easter — though certainly that acknowledgment from the U.S. president would have hit home to many Americans.

Here in Canada, the steady message from political leaders and public health officials over the past few days is that no quick end is in sight, for the pandemic or for the measures being taken to deal with the havoc it’s wreaking.

The ever-expanding array of financial relief for Canadian individuals and businesses, from whopping 75 per cent wage subsidies to record payouts of employment insurance, reflect a federal government that is trying to help the population get through this crisis, rather than just past it.

That’s an important distinction. With the end date increasingly uncertain, endurance is required now more than mere forbearance from the population.

One clear sign of the long-term nature of this crisis is that the warnings on self-isolation are still being stepped up, especially against people who aren’t taking the precautions seriously.

A new Angus Reid poll put that figure at roughly 12 per cent, or one in eight Canadians, who believe that the crisis is overblown.

At podium after podium this week, political leaders were lining up to tell these doubters that they were dangerously wrong.

Even the open grocery store policy is getting cast in the long term.

Across the country, shoppers are being increasingly urged to make their grocery errands a once-a-week duty, not a once-a-day outing.

In Quebec, Premier Francois Legault announced that grocery stores and most other businesses will be closed on Sundays through April to give staff a rest.

Fortunately for most Canadians, once-a-week grocery shopping doesn’t require much of a sacrifice.

A 2018 survey showed that Canadians make 1.29 grocery trips a week, compared with Americans, who visit the grocery stores about 1.6 times a week.

But April is shaping up to be, in T.S. Eliot’s immortal words, the cruelest month for self-isolation.

The hunkering-down that Canadians started in mid-March is not letting up with the turn of a calendar page, as many had hoped. It may well be time to just put the calendar away for the next month.

A consensus is emerging — one that includes even Trump — that most people are going to be spending the entire month of April in continuing self-isolation. The U.S. president extended those measures until April 30 on Sunday and it seems unlikely that Canada would come out of self-isolation much earlier than its nearest neighbour.

Canada’s chief public health officer dropped a few glimmers of hope over the weekend, cautiously and frugally, when she said that the coming week would be crucial in determining whether self-isolation is working.

Dr. Theresa Tam was talking about the tiny levelling off in the curve that British Columbia was reporting at the end of last week.

Dare we hope that we’re seeing the beginning of the end?

“I still think it’s a little too early to tell because we are only, you know, at the end of March,” Tam said. “But next week will be very, very important, for me anyways, in terms of looking at those trends.”

“Too early to tell” is not a short-term phrase. Nor is “only … the end of March.”

Realistically, the motto for the next month is shaping up to be: It’s April, get used to it.

Susan Delacourt is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

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