By Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the global COVID-19 pandemic “really sucks,” and could jeopardize large gatherings with friends and family over Christmas after a reined-in Thanksgiving.
Acknowledging frustrations around partial lockdowns and scrapped Halloween plans in some parts of the country, Trudeau said Tuesday that Canadians need to gird themselves for a “tough winter ahead” amid the second wave of the virus.
“It’s frustrating to have to explain to your kids in many parts of the country, like here in Ottawa, that we’re not going to be trick-or-treating this weekend. And it’s frustrating knowing that unless we’re really, really careful, there may not be the kinds of family gatherings we want to have at Christmas,” Trudeau said at a news conference.
“My six-year-old asked me a few weeks ago, ‘Dad, is COVID-19 forever?’ I mean, he’s in Grade 1, this was supposed to be his big year as a big boy, and they’re not even singing in his classroom.”
The prime minister encouraged residents to continue to follow the advice of local health authorities, despite frustrations over conflicting information on Halloween as well as COVID-19 testing requirements for students.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, has suggested hockey sticks as a tool to hand out Halloween treats, while others are resorting to candy chutes or self-serve stations. But the Ontario government has recommended against trick-or-treating in parts of the province that have been hardest hit by the coronavirus resurgence.
Meanwhile school reopening plans sowed confusion about what symptoms in students demanded COVID-19 tests, triggering massive lineups at assessment centres and overwhelming laboratories where the tests are processed.
The mixed messaging threatens to chip away at trust in public health advice, said Tim Sly, an epidemiologist and professor emeritus at Ryerson University’s School of Public Health.
Dance studio’s in Ontario’s “hot zones” have been allowed to stay open, while gyms have been forced to shutter along with cinemas, casinos and performing arts venues, he noted.
“Quite honestly I don’t know why a distinction is made between those two,” Sly said.
Trudeau said circumstances have changed since the spring, when little was known about the novel coronavirus and there was one main message: “Everyone stay home.”
“We can be a little more targeted (now). But yeah, that means a little more complicated in our messages,” he said Tuesday.
Trudeau’s remarks come as Canada verges on 10,000 deaths due to COVID-19.
Ontario is reporting 827 new cases of COVID-19 today, and four new deaths due to the virus, pushing the total number of reported fatalities to 9,999 as of early Tuesday afternoon.
Quebec, where residents in its biggest cities will have to live with partial lockdowns for at least another four weeks, is reporting 963 new cases of COVID-19 and 19 more deaths linked to the coronavirus.
“What we are living through is a horrific national tragedy,” Trudeau said. “And we need to know that there are more tragedies to come.”
Trudeau sought to spur hope as winter looms, despite the sombre words.
“We will get through this. Vaccines are on the horizon. Spring and summer will come and they will be better than this winter,” he said.
But the current situation he summed up with a single verb.
“This sucks. It really, really does.”
In Prince Edward Island, chief public health officer Dr. Heather Morrison had unwelcome news for residents hoping to reunite with family from outside the Atlantic bubble over the December holidays.
“While we are always evaluating our decisions and guidance using the best available evidence, I do not expect right now that we will be reducing the 14-day self-isolation requirement prior to the Christmas holiday season,” she told a briefing in Charlottetown.
Under their bubble arrangement, the Atlantic provinces limit who can enter and require people who do come in from outside the region to quarantine for two weeks.