TORONTO — Keeping distance from others as a way to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 ramped up across Canada on Thursday as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife went into self-isolation and stock markets continued their downward spiral amid growing concerns about the pandemic.
Examples of social distancing, which experts say is one of the most effective ways of curtailing the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus, were on full display.
The first ministers’ meeting in Ottawa was cancelled, as were the Juno Awards scheduled for the weekend in Saskatoon. The Toronto Raptors advised their players, coaches and travelling staff to go into self-isolation for 14 days. The advice follows Monday night’s Raptors game against the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City and the NBA’s decision to suspended its season because a Jazz player tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
The NHL also advised teams against conducting morning skates, practices or team meetings, and the league said it would have an announcement later Thursday about the future of its season.
Canada has to date recorded one death among more than 100 confirmed cases of COVID-19, which mostly produces mild or moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. Public health authorities warn that for people aged 65 and over or with compromised immune systems, the illness can be much more severe.
While Trudeau has no symptoms, he has opted to work from home after his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, began exhibiting mild flu-like symptoms including a low fever late Wednesday night. She had been in London for a speaking engagement and is currently awaiting test results.
Hard-hit countries such as China and Italy, which has now all but locked down its entire population of 60 million, have taken stringent measures to keep people apart. Canada’s response has so far been far more moderate, but that has begun to change.
As Manitoba and Saskatchewan reported their first cases, Trudeau cancelled a planned Thursday morning appearance at the Public Health Agency of Canada. Trudeau was also scheduled to meet with Canada’s premiers in Ottawa, but his office says they will instead talk to each over the phone and postpone the in-person meeting.
In a statement, the PMO said the government continues to urge Canadians to take all necessary precautions and follow medical advice in order to stay safe during the COVID-19 outbreak, adding that “this is what the prime minister and his family are doing.”
On Wall Street, so-called “circuit breakers” kicked in for 15 minutes to halt another precipitous sell-off of stocks as the economic toll of the virulent disease continued to mount. The rout came after U.S. President Donald Trump imposed a travel ban on most of Europe, but offered few new measures to contain the economic impact of the outbreak.
Canada’s main stock index plunged more than 1,000 points at the start of trading day and the loonie’s slide against the U.S. dollar continued.
Other countries have been stepping up their efforts at social distancing. Congress said it was shutting the Capitol and all House and Senate office buildings to the public until April. Only lawmakers, aides, journalists and official visitors are to be allowed in. Several American politicians have already self-quarantined.
Politicians in Europe, Iran and China are among the estimated 126,000 people worldwide infected with the coronavirus, with more than 4,600 deaths. More than half the known patients have recovered.
Several countries have hardened their borders in hopes of stemming the tide of infections. The Czech government declared a state of emergency and said it was reinstating checks at its borders with Austria and Germany. Travellers from 13 at-risk countries such as China and Iran would be kept out, Prime Minister Andrej Babis said.
Norway and Lithuania shut down kindergartens, schools and universities for at least two weeks, while the Norwegian government said employees at work had to keep at least one meter apart.
Britain, which is exempt from the U.S. travel ban, has so far urged people to wash their hands but was expected to take further measures. The U.K. has 456 confirmed cases and eight deaths.
Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press