The language and mood of the second COVID-19 wave has changed

This second wave of the pandemic feels quite different than the first.

image: Asia Times

In the Spring, shoppers emptied store shelves of toilet paper –a curious indicator of what’s important in people’s lives. A sense of domesticity swept the nation as flour flew off the shelves in a bread-baking frenzy. Canadians became more self-sufficient as vegetables replaced flower gardens in back yards.

Language reflects the change. Google tracts word usage use across Canada. Now no one is trying to “flatten the curve.”  “Flatten the curve” as a phrase peaked in mid-March. Now usage is just three per cent of that. I succumbed to the impulse to use, what had become a cliché, in this column mid-March.

“Novel coronavirus” use peaked in late January and use is now at four per cent of that. The shine has gone off the coronavirus and now it’s just the same old sneaky, deadly disease that has killed over one million globally.

 “New normal” is doing a bit better. Use peaked in May and is now one-half that.

I’m struck by how different normalcy looks now when I watch movies made in pre-pandemic times. People are walking the streets without masks, going to bars and clubs, getting together in large groups at weddings and funerals without a care about whether they are spraying a deadly virus into the air and infecting those around them.

Who’s catching it and dying has changed. Most deaths in the first wave, ninety per cent, were residents of nursing and long-term care residences. The residence death rate is rising again but the source of infections seems to be from young people in the community, not care-givers. Three quarters of infections were in those under the age of 50 as of November 19.

The season plays a role. In the summer, outdoor activities limited the spread. With Fall and Winter approaching, a second wave is sweeping the nation as families and friends gather together indoors.

Fraudsters are cashing in on the second wave as Canadians take advantage of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. One way is for scammers to relieve us of our benefit is identity theft. They use stolen identity to apply for and redirect benefits. Another scam is to approach an eligible person with an offer to help them apply for CERB, then to use their identity to redirect the benefit.

On the bright side, Canadians have less debt and fewer bankruptcies than in the first wave. With the receipt of CERB, the debt to disposable income ratio fell remarkably, from 175 per cent in the first three months of the year to just 158 per cent between April and June. The massive wave of support programs rolled out by governments across the country have kept peoples’ heads above water.

Supply chains have become normalized during the pandemic. Even as COVID-19 cases climb, supply chains have been secured so that groceries should continue to be available. 

Of course, government benefits will end, debt will increase, and service workers will be unemployed.

But Spring brings hope that a vaccine will be available and put an end to this nightmare.

Coronavirus tests Canada’s character

Canadians are seen as “nice” people, sensible, proud of Canada but not jingoistic, modest, not fanatically religious. The way we respond to the novel coronavirus pandemic will further define who we are.

Nice Canadian

The response to the pandemic in the U.S. has been politicized, similar to the response to climate change, with President Trump initially calling COVID-19 a hoax cooked up by his political opponents. Apparently some Republicans are following Trump’s initial lead and not socially isolating themselves by going to bars.

Canada can be an oasis of calm amid the global coronavirus freak-out. Political leaders can instil a sense of calm and confidence. One of those is Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer. She has become the face of Canada’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Canadians are rising to the challenge of a worsening novel coronavirus outbreak, going out of their way to be kind. Jason Dudas of Kamloops posted on Facebook:

“A co-worker told me about an elderly woman collapsing at a North Shore grocery store this weekend. If you are in a lower risk group and can help out elderly people you know with shopping you will be helping with keeping them safe at home, using extra sanitary precautions around them. If high risk groups don’t change their behaviour we will have a serious run on our health care system. But if we all work together then can make it through this situation.”

Kyle Ashley in Toronto posted a sign in the lobby of his downtown building offering to provide whatever assistance he could. “It’s like a war,” Ashley said, referring to the pandemic. “We will have bad actors, but good will come out.”

I have just returned from Mexico and will to self-isolate for two weeks. Neighbours have offered to buy groceries for me. It’s going to be tough to cut off contact with others, not going for coffee or to meetings at the society where I volunteer.  Social isolation is important, especially for travelers returning to Canada who have gone through busy airports. It’s voluntary but it’s the right thing to do; the only way to “flatten the curve” and slow down the spread which could potentially affect more than half of Canadians.

This isn’t panic, it’s just good citizenship under adverse social conditions.

Universal healthcare defines how we care for each other. Healthcare puts the common good above that of individual desire. Responsible Canadians will weigh what they individually want and what is in the public good. Canadian professor of philosophy Mark Gerald Kingwell says:

“Politics is a series of bargains between individual desire and collective good. What always remains is the goal of robust public trust. Community health is a shared good, just like education, transit infrastructure and building standards. It’s a concept that people against vaccines, flu-shot refuseniks, and turnstile jumpers everywhere just don’t seem to grasp (Goble and Mail, March 12, 2020).”

Herd mentality is not in the common good. Canadian’s response to COVID-19 will demonstrate our steely resolve in the face of adversity. We can hold our heads high with pride in the measures we take to stop the spread of this pandemic.