Editorial: COVID-19 a growing no-win situation

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In the middle of last week, cabinet minister Katrina Nokleby, who attended the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) conference in Toronto earlier this month, was in a relatively exclusive group of people who were self-isolating because of a potential exposure to COVID-19.

Before the work week ended, the world was a different place. Stock markets saw their worst single day since the Black Monday crash of 1987 and fell to levels not seen since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Professional sports seasons are postponed, major college tournaments cancelled.

Kim Riles, chief operating officer of the Stanton Territorial Hospital, Diane Thom, minister of health and social services, Kami Kandola, chief public health officer, Premier Caroline Cochrane, and Ivan Russell, manager, emergency measures with the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs. The four held a news conference at the Great Hall of the NWT Legislative Assembly on March 13.

Canada hasn’t had any experience like this since polio, which was largely brought under control in the 1970s. The SARS outbreak of 2003 had similarities but COVID-19’s runaway spread leaves it in the dust. At no point that year were Germans warned by their chancellor that seven in 10 of them were at risk of infection.

On the morning of Feb. 13, the federal transport minister announced a moratorium on cruise ship traffic in the Arctic for 2020. At least one Yellowknifer is stuck in Italy, where the outbreak is worst outside of China, and a nationwide travel lockdown is in place.

Perhaps most importantly, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global pandemic, which is an alarming word that is to be used sparingly. But it also is a key factor governments at all levels and other organizations look for in terms of their response. Like the response to a weather event such as a hurricane, declaring a national emergency enables the United States to access funds reserved for crises such as the one the world is facing today. As President Donald Trump said, “tremendous powers” are unleashed.

In Canada, there’s no national emergency yet, but the powers that be have unleashed billions of dollars in assistance to businesses impacted and took steps to allow banks to issue hundreds of billions more in loans to stem the financial impact of the transportation interruptions imposed in response to the rapid spread of infection.

To date more than 80 people in the NWT have been tested for the virus and all have come back negative. The shelves in the toilet paper aisle may be more sparsely stocked, but there was still some available, at least in the capital.

Border closures and self-quarantines and the cancellation of basketball games seconds before tipoff because a player tested positive are alarming things to read about. They’re alarming to report on, too, but News/North and its parent company Northern News Services will continue to share as much relevant information as we can as quickly as we can. We’re monitoring national and international developments, and we’ve established a dedicated line of communication with the Department of Health and Social Services.
Slowing the virus down so the health care system isn’t overwhelmed is of paramount importance now.

Practice social distancing by avoiding travel and any large social gatherings. Bump elbows instead of shaking hands or avoid contact entirely. Report any symptoms, wash your hands frequently, cough into your elbow and stay home if you’re sick.
We’ll do our part to keep you in the loop. In the meantime, stay tuned and stay safe.

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