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H.E. Kathleen CSABA, Ambassador of Canada

Experience With SARS Helped Canada Respond To COVID-19

Canada saw its first cases of coronavirus in January, at first only in Toronto and Vancouver. These early cases were linked to people travelling to Canada from China, where the 2019 novel coronavirus was first identified.

However, the virus soon started spreading through the population, and we now have cases of coronavirus in every province of Canada and in two of our three territories.

Given our country’s past experience with the SARS epidemic in 2003, our hospitals and health systems had plans, infrastructure and resources in place to help detect and respond to a pandemic outbreak. However, the scale of the pandemic has taken all of us by surprise.

Working closely with provincial and territorial governments, as health care is a shared responsibility in our federal system, our federal government moved quickly to ensure that our preparedness and response measures are appropriate and adaptable, based on the latest science and the evolving situation.

Through regular briefings by the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada and by our Prime Minister, Canadians were advised early on to practise good hygiene measures and physical distancing. Over time, our efforts to flatten the curve have evolved, so that educational institutions have been closed, many workplaces are closed or people are encouraged to work from home, restaurants and bars are closed, people are strongly encouraged to self-isolate, and there are mandatory 14-day quarantines for people returning to Canada from abroad. However, there are no official curfews in place as there are in Serbia. Canadians are taking this quite seriously and are doing their best to stay safe and limit transmission of the virus.

Government announced several tranches of economic assistance for individuals and businesses, which amount to billions of dollars of support

On the economic side, our government has announced several tranches of economic assistance for individuals and businesses, which amount to billions of dollars of support. These include an emergency benefit payment for people who have lost their jobs, and salary top-ups and various benefits for people whose needs are greatest. For businesses, wage subsidies and credit programs have been made available, and the deadline for making sales tax and customs duty payments has been deferred.

This crisis has also had a major impact on the work we do abroad through our embassies and consulates around the world. We have successfully repatriated thousands of Canadians from around the globe, including over one hundred from our three countries of accreditation. While our network of diplomatic missions is still open and continues to provide essential services, we have brought home hundreds of non-essential diplomatic staff and their families to keep them safe.

This week, our Chief Public Health Officer advised that the measures being taken across Canada to flatten the curve are having an impact on slowing the spread of coronavirus. We have not seen an explosion of cases over a short period of time, and our health-care system has not been overwhelmed. However, over half of all COVID-19 deaths in Canada have occurred at long-term care facilities (such as old-age homes), which pose a particular challenge in reducing the spread of the virus. So while the situation is headed in the right direction in Canada, we must continue to be vigilant and not relax the preventative measures too early.

Ketlin Čaba ambasadorka

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