Posted By: Savannah Sewell (MARF 2021)
Most people can tell you exactly where they were, or what they were doing when they received the news that COVID-19 had landed in Canada. When their world changed, not to be dramatic, but, forever. I was sitting in my parents’ house, ready to watch a basketball game with my Dad. We were both working on our laptops, I on final papers and he on work, waiting for the Utah Jazz to tip off. I remember it so clearly because both of us continually looked at our watches as the game didn’t start, and didn’t start, and then we eventually saw the teams, fans, and staff leaving the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City. Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19. Ironically, Gobert had been a part of a rather eccentric interview just days earlier where, in a bid to lighten the mood surrounding the coronavirus discussion, he touched all of the mics and equipment in front of him. He was later branded as the professional sport’s “player zero” and unfairly blamed for the NBA’s shutdown. It happened on Wednesday, March 11, 2020.
The next day, I was on a GO train headed back into downtown Toronto for a faculty event at the University of Toronto’s iSchool. It was there, at that event, that our phones began to ring, slowly, giving us the news. In the next few days, essentially, the world evolved into a big budget disaster blockbuster, like The Day After Tomorrow. March break was extended for schools. We weren’t to have any more in-person lectures or events. Travel was suspended; airlines and airports shut down. The WHO classified the coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic. People began working from home. All non-essential services are altered, shut down, or on pause. Social distancing was suggested. Masks, at first not even recommended, become mandatory. The grocery stores were empty. There was a toilet paper shortage! It goes on and on. Eventually, as the days turned to weeks and weeks into months the hallowed emails reading “in these unprecedented times” grew to become the norm. But, besides what we, individually, remember about those first few “unprecedented” weeks, what have been the most important markers in the pandemic for Canadians?
On that Wednesday, March 11, when Rudy Gobert tested positive, the WHO declared the coronavirus a global pandemic. Canada had over 100 confirmed cases. The coronavirus had entered the country through travelers coming from China in late January, first in Toronto and then Vancouver. In February, a case entered the country with a traveler from Iran, not China. The first locally transmitted cases in Canada happened at conventions in Toronto (mining) and Vancouver (dentistry). By March 12 there were cases in five provinces; British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan. Between March 12 and March 22 every province and territory in Canada had declared a state of emergency. Non-essential travel was banned and all travelers had to quarantine for 14 days after their arrival in Canada: otherwise fines and penalties would be laid. The time for stopping the spread was over; there was only then hope of trying to slow it. The Ontario government prepares 3000 ventilators for critical care patients, more than twice the province’s original capacity of 1300 beds. On March 20, 2020 there are over 1000 confirmed cases across the country, all Canadians are encouraged to travel back to Canada immediately, and the borders were closed to all non-Canadians, including Americans (until March 21).
In April, the Canadian COVID-19 experience begins to change everyday life. The government offers 5.4 million Canadians forms of emergency financial aid, such as the CERB (Canadian Emergency Response Benefit). On April 22, Ontario and Quebec call on the Canadian military to help to provide care in 35 long-term care homes that have been hit with the toughest outbreaks. The Canadian death toll passes 2000 by the end of the month and there are 50,000 cases. Provinces begin enforcing a two-meter space between individuals. The federal government announces that $1.1 billion will be allocated to vaccine research.
Restrictions begin to lift in Quebec and Manitoba. In Ontario, fears of summer cottagers coming from populated areas prompt regions to announce that second property owners are “not permitted to occupy (their) secondary residences”. Stores begin to offer curbside pickup. The unemployment rate soars to 13%. Masks are now encouraged in areas where people cannot socially distance from others. Stores and personal services open back up in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, and Saskatchewan. Justin Trudeau announces that there will be a collaborative effort of $4 billion to increase the wages of essential workers. Ontario’s first lockdown begins to lift, allowing some services and stores to open, while schools will remain closed for the rest of the year.
In Ontario, people may now visit with up to 10 people. Canada reaches over 100,000 cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. In Nova Scotia, all bars and restaurants can open at full capacity.
Quebec is the first province to require masks as mandatory in all public spaces. The Atlantic Bubble is created as the four Atlantic provinces, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and P.E.I., allow travel amongst themselves without quarantine. Ontario’s emergency order is extended until the end of the month as most of the province moves on to the next stage of reopening. Remdesivir is approved for treatment of COVID-19 patients. An app is developed that individuals can download on their phones that will alert them if they have come into close proximity to someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus.
August is a quiet month, with the entire country seeing reopening and the lowest case numbers in weeks.
School reopens across the country, with some delays. Cases begin to spike and several public and government leaders quarantine as their team members test positive. Nunavut reports its first two cases, gold miners that were exposed in their home provinces. The Ontario Hospital Association announces that they are “losing ground” in the fight against COVID-19. There is a push for individuals to book and to get their flu shots, in an attempt to not overburden the hospital systems with influenza. Prime Minister Trudeau announces that his experts have told him that the second wave of coronavirus is underway and that Thanksgiving will not be spent with families this year. Manitoba and Ontario experience stricter restrictions. At the end of September, the federal government makes additions to the CERB and other assistance plans to continue to help those in dire financial situations related to the pandemic. Rapid test use is approved across the country.
Quebec closes essentially all public spaces and private social gatherings are forbidden. Ontario rolls back its opening plans. Canadian cases surpass 200,000. Hallowe’en comes as officials in all jurisdictions urge no events or trick-or-treating.
Social gatherings in Manitoba are banned and non-essential stores closed. Newfoundland and P.E.I. pull out of the Atlantic Bubble as cases rise, and several days later, so does New Brunswick. Ontario announces a five-tier colour coded system of restrictions. Both tests and cases are at record highs as parts of Ontario move back into lockdown. The national case count reaches 300,000. The first announcements of vaccine purchase contracts for Canada are announced as Justin Trudeau assures all Canadians that they will be vaccinated by September 2021.
Canada’s case count reaches 400,000 and by the end of the month, 500,000. As Ontario’s cases rise, the province slowly moves back into lockdown (#2). The first Pfizer BioNTech vaccines are administered to healthcare workers. Nunavut reports their first two deaths. The government encourages cancelling all travel, vacation, and plans to visit family. The Moderna vaccine is approved for use. A more infectious strain begins to enter Canada from travel to the United Kingdom. Schools in Ontario are closed for two weeks after the winter holidays. At the end of December, the Canadian death toll pass 15,000.
The Canadian case count reaches 600,000 and later 700,000 at the end of the month. Quebec announces a curfew of 8 p.m., as the Ontario government faces backlash for a slow vaccine rollout. The Ontario lockdown gains momentum with another state of emergency and a stay-at-home order. Pfizer announces that it will have to slow deliveries to Canada to allow retooling for increased production in the future. Parts of New Brunswick enter lockdown. All Ontario students move into a virtual learning model. It is announced that all Canadians travelling will be required to be tested before and after their trip, in some cases in the airport.
The Canadian case count reaches over 800,000. The AstraZeneca vaccine is approved for use; it will be deployed in Ontario within pharmacies. It is announced in Ontario that the Winter/Spring school break in March will be delayed. Three variants have now been detected, with two being found in Canada. The Atlantic provinces continue to see outbreaks and move into lockdowns while the restrictions in parts of British Columbia and Ontario are relaxed.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is approved for use and is the only single dose vaccine available. Ontario’s restrictions continue being lifted. Atlantic and Western Canada continues to relax restrictions and to see moderate improvement in case numbers. A recommendation that only certain individuals receive the AstraZeneca vaccine is published by and National Advisory Committee on Immunization, and public concern rises.
Ontario enters a third complete lockdown as a third wave is officially declared. The national vaccine rollout is ramped up as Canadian deliveries are confirmed in the millions. Ontario begins vaccinating in declared hotspots. The third wave hits Alberta as they experience an “unprecedented” transmission level. Nova Scotia tightens restrictions. South of the border, the Centers for Disease Control and prevention announces that fully vaccinated individuals do not have to wear a mask. A group of nurses from Newfoundland head to Toronto to provide relief to the overworked and exhausted hospital staff. The territories continue to report low and manageable numbers.
Over 21 million Canadians have received their first vaccine. The use of AstraZeneca vaccine is suspended, although some is used for the second dose. Plans for second doses across the country are made as the interval following the first dose begins to expire. Manitoba sees a rise in cases, and some ICU patients are transported into Ontario. Six provinces expand the Pfizer vaccine availability to those 12 years of age and older. As May continues there is, nationally, a drop in the incidence rate, though hotspots still are occurring.
It is anticipated that by the end of the pandemic, 1 in 5 Canadian businesses will be at risk of shutting their doors permanently. Everyone will have experienced a birthday, every major holiday, and many family and community celebrations while in a COVID ravaged world. Weddings over Zoom, play-in NBA championships, and the constant Googling of the latest local guidelines have become the norm. Perhaps, as we reflect on the past 14 months and look forwards in hope of a brighter future, it is helpful to take these timestamped events as a reminder of how strong each of us has been. How resilient, gritty, and capable, we as a nation can be in the face of such a life altering historical event, such as the global pandemic of COVID-19.
If you are experiencing overwhelming amounts of stress, depression, or anxiety as a direct or indirect effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, please know you are not alone. The links below may help:
Bibliography & Image Sources (Click to view)
Bronca, Tristan. “COVID-19: A Canadian timeline.” Canadian Healthcare Network, April 8, 2020. May 23, 2021. https://www.canadianhealthcarenetwork.ca/covid-19-a-canadian-timeline
“Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on April 26.” CBC News, April 27, 2021. May 23, 2021. https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/coronavirus-covid19-canada-world-april27-2021-1.6003288
“Coronavirus: What’s happening in Canada and around the world on Feb. 10.” CBC News, February 10, 2021. May 24, 2021. https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/coronavirus-covid19-canada-world-february10-2021-1.5908220
“COVID-19 could shutter more than 200,000 Canadian businesses forever, CFIB says.” The Canadian Press, January 21, 2021. May 23, 2021. https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/cfib-survey-1.5882059
“From first cases to first vaccines: A timeline of COVID-19 in Canada.” The Canadian Press, January 25, 2021. May 24, 2021.https://globalnews.ca/news/7597228/covid-canada-timeline/
“Grim anniversary: A timeline of one year of COVID-19.” The Canadian Press, January 25, 2021. May 24, 2021. https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/coronavirus/grim-anniversary-a-timeline-of-one-year-of-covid-19-1.5280617
McLay, Rachel. “The secret to how Atlantic Canada weathered the COVID-19 storm? Political will.” Dalhousie University News, April 14, 2021. May 24, 2021. https://www.dal.ca/news/2021/04/14/the-secret-to-how-atlantic-canada-weathered-the-covid-19-storm–.html
Ranger, Michael. “Timeline: A year of pandemic life in Toronto.” 68 News, March 11, 2021. May 25, 2021. https://www.680news.com/2021/03/11/timeline-a-year-of-pandemic-life/
Images (in order):
“Rudy Gobert 2015 (cropped)” by Jan Fante is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
“Halifax, Canada – Empty shelves with no toilet paper” by Indrid__Cold is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
“18324 Montana Canada Border Sign” by Raymond Hitchcock is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
“Contactless Curbside Pickup” by Manchester Library is licensed with CC BY-SA 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
Special thanks to Ian M. Fraser and Janine M. Schweitzer for their generous support of the 2021 Margaret Angus Research Fellowship!