Coronavirus: Where Are We Headed?

The immediacy of our governments’ responses to the Coronavirus makes it difficult for us to maintain a longer-term perspective.

Nova Scotia, like jurisdictions around the world, has urged citizens to avoid personal contact both at work and at play. The consequences are many and varied.

Bars and restaurants are closed. So are schools, libraries, parks, museums, houses of worship, and many stores. International travel has dwindled to a trickle.

Lobster fishers have lost their markets and processors can’t obtain needed temporary foreign workers. Neither can farmers. Professional sports have suspended their games indefinitely. Amateur sports activity is curtailed.

Most people are working from home. The big exceptions are health care workers and other first responders, and those providing essential services such as grocery stores and utilities.

The schools are closed until at least until April 3rd. Young people are not hard hit by the virus, but they can be part of the chain of transmission even if showing little or no symptoms.

In China, where the disease began, local transmission is nearly eradicated. Their biggest concern is for people returning from other countries where the disease is out of control.

The number of cases in Nova Scotia is accelerating, as it is in the rest of Canada. The hope is that widely observed social distancing will contain the spread, but it is likely that reports of new cases will still be getting worse on April 3rd.

A more likely scenario would have us still living tightly restricted lives into June, and only then things slowly relaxing: say a less strict isolation program, combined with extensive testing.

Canada’s political leaders are wise to stay away from predictions that go beyond a few weeks. Any forecast beyond that is highly speculative.

The scenario that follows here is of that ilk. It is provided to help us imagine the challenges we will face, looking at how things might evolve till the end of 2020.

  1. A vaccine will not be available this year. The obstacles to travel that have been created will remain. This will be less severe if a rapid test for the virus that can be used at airports is invented.
  2. Social interaction will still be constrained until Nova Scotia has a minimal number of new trackable cases each day.

    Communal experiences such as sporting events, church services, concerts, and plays are essential to the human spirit. They cannot be replaced by a Facebook group.

    We need to find ways of being together that do not create individual or community risk. Multi-party video calls can help but are no substitute for being in the same room with other people.

  3. Schools will not reopen this spring. In the fall they might for broad geographic areas having no new cases for a month. Internet-based schooling will prevail elsewhere. Teachers will occasionally meet with small groups of students from families with no current cases.
  4. Tourism will have a dreadful year. Cancellations of conferences and conventions will continue until late in the year. Some of them may be replaced by video events but that will not help tourism operators.
  5. The United States will be slower than Canada to get a grip, so the heavy restrictions on border crossings for other than essential purposes will continue after Nova Scotia has its situation under control.

    Plans should be made now for keeping the cost as low as possible for another year of non-operating ferry service.

  6. Lobster fishers will have a dreadful year with low sales and low prices. That will improve in the fall as key Asian markets return to normal.
  7. Immigration is critical to Canada’s economic success and has been a key ingredient to Nova Scotia’s economy. Governments must find a way to enable qualified immigrants, including refugees, to continue arriving, with suitable quarantine periods.
  8. Construction has been a major engine of the economy. Current projects will be completed but developers will be reluctant to make new commitments until they see light at the end of the tunnel.
  9. Testing for the virus will become more efficient and routine. A diminishing number of positive tests, and evidence that a vaccine will be forthcoming in 2021 will raise hopes.
  10. Many of us will become frustrated with and resistant to the continuing government oversight of our daily lives. That will spark social conflict with neighbours and family members who are inclined to be more compliant.

It would be surprising if the above description ended up being close to the truth. But many of the underlying issues are sure to affect us.

Two years from now, this experience will be in the rearview mirror. We will be more grateful for the freedom we have in our ordinary lives, and for the health care workers and others who were crucial to getting us through the ordeal.


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