from Susan D in Ottawa, Canada: more snow

Spring time snow in Ottawa

21 April. Snow again. This morning it snowed again. Surely it is time for the third Winter to be over and done, and if not, it needs a new name – third Winter of Despair.

Yesterday near noon, just as we were returning from our brisk walk in the Farm in brisk temperature, my favourite (unacknowledged of course) young neighbour roared out of the little lane that joins our street just across from us and stopped to say hello. On her bicycle and with her helmet, she might not be recognisable as a senior bureaucrat tasked with working on the federal government COVID-19 Economic Response Plan. She explained that now she had someone on her staff covering for her in the mornings and Saturday, and that she was working at the office from noon till 8.00 pm or so the rest of the time. I congratulated her on the very positive public response to the release of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit that provides a taxable benefit of $2,000 every 4 weeks for up to 16 weeks to eligible workers who have lost their income due to COVID-19. “Hmmm, yes” said she “but we are digging deeper and deeper into the bucket as we keep expanding coverage and support”. Then she brightened up, “But it is very interesting” and sped off. It was very heartening to know that her bright cheerful self was devoted to “saving Canada” (words of her husband).

20 April. Up then down. I feel unmoored today, although thankfully not unhinged. The daily list of chores did not serve as a framework for the day, just gave me a vague sense of ennui as I moved from one to another finishing one but not others. I feel like I am wandering aimlessly about the house and not sure where I misplaced my compass.

Yet yesterday was the opposite, with a most enjoyable first crack at not-quite-Spring garden clean-up. Lovely to be outside and not worry about anyone nearby coughing or sneezing or just getting too close. The sun was out (obligatory weather comment) and after a bit of strenuous raking, it was even possible to exchange the winter down coat for a lighter one. And in the evening we took a quick look, and then stayed till the end of the 25th year celebration in the London Royal Albert Hall of The Phantom of the Opera, offered free online. We may be closed in, but if we have Internet access there are so many offerings to help take our minds off the restrictions and the news – theatre, opera, concerts, movies, series, virtual museum and garden tours, e-books and so on.

17 April. Snow. The snow did melt a couple of days ago, but yesterday and today Nature provided follow-up reminders of Spring’s absence with little ice pellets and small snow squalls. Our walks some time ago in plus10 degrees seemed quite balmy for Spring, much as minus 10 degrees in winter seems, if not quite balmy, at least bearable. There is something most Canadians seem to need to talk about, no matter what – the weather. It might be, as some humourist has suggested, that we have been given extra seasons: Winter, fool’s Spring, second Winter, Spring of deception, third Winter, mud season, actual Spring, Summer (some descriptions substitute “road work”), False Fall, Second Summer and actual Fall.

Why do we have to have this inclement third Winter when reading the COVID-19 news and watching the escalating numbers could be ever so slightly more bearable if we were able to go outside without a parka and wave from correct distance to our wonderful neighbour-friends.

from Susan A. in Ottawa, Canada: April snowfalls and fines for dawdling …

15 April. April is the cruellest month.  When I awoke this morning just after 5.00, the little park behind our house looked strangely light.  Although the sky was clear, there had been a snowfall in the night!  It will surely melt during the day, but it was Nature’s rude reminder not to think about Spring just yet.

And then, checking Facebook while having a first cup of coffee, there was the sad news that the husband of one of my former colleagues at Statistics Canada has died from COVID-19 and that she herself is in critical condition in the hospital.  We had planned to get together after they returned from their stay in Toulouse and ours in Paris.  We returned at the beginning of March but they seem to have stayed till the end.

14 April. And that exchange with my daughter sapped my energy for the week as I waited for a decision.  In the end it was good news, for the time being, and she is at home with her husband and girls, tending her garden.

Now for a little recap of the week that was. 

Fines for dawdling in the parks. Last weekend was quite lovely as mentioned earlier and people were out and about in numbers, but parks had already been closed except to walk through.  Early in the week it was reported that a man had been fined $880 for walking his dog in one closed park, and a man playing with his autistic child in another park had been given a warning.  There were some subsequent negative comments in the press about the harshness of the action, but the mayor noted that warnings were not working.  Still, the communication about what is OK and not OK is as vague as the fines are steep.

Masks. One of my sister’s sons works for 3M Canada, a manager in the Personal Safety Division.  He was slated for a new job just before COVID-19 came to Canada.  Now he remains in his job, is one of the only workers in the offices, and seems to be working all his waking hours.  As one of his self/US protective measures, Mr Trump invoked the 1950 Defense Production Act allowing the government to stop 3M exporting N95 respirators to Canada and Latin America.  In response 3M cited global humanitarian issues as a reason to continue its supply to other countries.  Canada noted that some of the materials used in the masks come from Canada.  Eventually an agreement was reached after the sword rattling and subsequent diplomatic efforts.  That nephew of ours must be learning a good deal about business in a pandemic with an overlay of politics.

Street cleaning. On Monday evening our street was posted with the no parking signs which usually signal that it has finally become almost impassable due to snow banks and the impressive show of heavy equipment would restore it, albeit temporarily, to its two-way status.  Early the next morning there was a very impressive show of heavy equipment, this time to remove winter debris and all the salt and sand that accumulates over the course of an Ottawa winter.  The usual routine of a truck with a sweeper and water spray proceeded up and down the sides and the middle of the street and all quieted down for a bit, then there was a heavy rumble that put in mind the parade of tanks down the Champs Elysees for July 14th festivities.  The rumble was caused by a line of eight trucks spraying again, a sight never seen in previous years.  Later a neighbour told us that it was chemical disinfectant that was being sprayed.  Not confirmed by any press, but very unusual if true.

Easter. Easter Sunday was drab and drear, and we felt sad even though our dear youngish neighbour delivered home-made hot-cross buns for our breakfast.  We had a long phone conversation with our daughter, and caught up with the girls who are at home completing their school years.  The cheerful multi-coloured arrangement of tulips I had picked out to send to them was replaced by the florist with some blue bouquet of odd flowers.  Perhaps it was a representation of the mood of all of us – a little blue.

On Easter Monday we had a Zoom session with a group of our neighbours who we used to meet regularly for dinner or movie nights.  We are four couples, – all retired but one from interesting jobs, and we have a fine time together.  We were immensely cheered by one couple who appeared in large pink bunny ears and related their morning walk wearing same.  They had passed a mother with a little boy, at a six-foot distance of course, and the mother had said to the child “Oh look dear, it’s the Easter bunny.  “Thank you for my chocolate rabbit” said the little child.  The Easter bunny said it had cheered his day!

from Susan A. in Ottawa: A Dire Communication

5 April. The communication from the Premier was dire.  Without measures in Ontario – no self-isolation, no physical distancing, no 20-second hand washing –an estimated 100,000 would die over the course of the pandemic, which could last as long as two years.  With those measures plus some even tougher ones, the death toll could be brought down to between 3,000 and 15,000.  That is a relatively clear message – one hundred thousand, or 3,000 to 15,000 will die, and the number depends on all of us behaving as we are told. 

The Premier ended his message: “So please, this weekend will be nice outside, and I know it’s hard to do, I know how difficult it is, but please, stay home. Help us write an ending to our story that we can look back on, that our future generations can look back on and be proud of.”

The weather on Saturday was indeed lovely, sunny and warm.  Did people stay home?  No, our street had many walkers, runners and bikers, and the little park behind us had just a little less of the usual dog walkers.  So the message was either not heard, or heard and not heeded.  Nothing to be proud about.

3 April. Today we await the press conference of the Premier of the province to give us the straight news about how bad it is likely to be.  I will not watch, but will read it after the event.  Video is too hot for me these days; print is a gentler mode of communicating unpleasant information.  But I did make one exception – the recent speech of Angela Merkel to the nation, apparently a rare occurrence and therefore all the more powerful.  To me her words seemed informative enough, instructive enough and calm enough not to be terrifying, although the speech was criticised by the Czech Prime Minister for risking panic.  Compared to some of the incomplete, incomprehensible, erroneous communication on the virus, on the numbers and on the likely outcomes, her message sounded just fine to me.  While on the subject of effective communication, Jacinda Ardern is notable for holding a special press conference just for the children of New Zealand to help them understand the global coronavirus pandemic.  And still on the subject of communication, the repeated warnings about the need to “flatten the curve” could surely be improved upon for clearer, more forceful messaging.

Susan A. in Ottawa, Canada. March 2020

30 March. First day out of the house since March 3rd.  We went for a walk in Agriculture Canada’s largely deserted Experimental Farm, which is close by our place.  A light rain certainly helped the desertedness, and contributed to lovely misty vistas and trees covered with silver droplets.  In addition to many fields the Farm has barns, lovely glass green houses and many many trees. Minor coughing, but no one about to fear I would infect them.

There are 6248 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada today, and 351 new cases in Ontario, the largest single-day increase.

At his daily briefing (not to be compared with the daily briefing given by the leader to the south), Prime Minister Justin Trudeau noted that the trajectory of COVID-19 cases seems not to be that of the US. 

Although it is too soon to know the impact of Canada’s efforts to curb the spread, he said he is proud that Canadians recognise the importance of staying home and keeping their distance from others.  Encouraging words, but we have seen people walking down our street and not keeping a distance, and doubt that they were all couples or living in the same house.

During the briefing the Prime Minister also gave more details on the emergency wage subsidy he had announced last week. Businesses, non-profits and charities whose revenues have decreased more than 30% will be eligible for the rescue plan. The government will cover up to 75% on the first $58,700 salary dollars and it will be back-dated to March 15th.  Companies are encouraged to re-hire laid off staff.  Trudeau was stern, at least for him (the new beard seems to help with gravitas), about punishing any efforts to profit from the plan.

Post retirement excitement has been a massive renovation project to create our “old age home” for which painful undertaking we received an unexpected award….and eventual great pleasure.

25 March. After that, it was a fog of coughing, fatigue, relieved by free opera from The Met, Queen Victoria by Lytton Strachey and room service from Drew who stayed far far away at the opposite end of the house.  Now, finally out of the fog, I am dressed and upright for at least half of the day.  And looking around now I see that the virus has been busy making its way about Canada and the United States.

18 March and later. Today is the 12th day of our self-imposed self-isolation. 

In mid-February Drew and I headed off to Paris for a two month stay to visit with old colleagues and friends from an earlier 20 year sojourn, planning to eat in favourite restaurants, to visit galleries and museums, to just walk about and look at the beautiful city that we love so much. 

I was aware of the coronavirus being active in China, and I had played host to the H1N1 virus in 2009.   But only the foggiest memory remained of how sick I was.  I do remember being left down a long corridor in the hospital for an hour or so on a hard little chair, and thinking that lying on the floor was looking more and more attractive – what could be worse down there than what I already had.

We were not really worried as we headed off, but we did take the precaution of refreshing our pneumonia shots.  We also tried to get hand sanitizer, which the druggist informed me had flown off the shelves and would not be restocked any time soon.  We didn’t pay enough attention to that little warning.

Once in Paris, it was not long before the situation was made very clear about what was happening right next door in Italy.  We did go about to eat and visit friends and walk, but there began to be a cloud of concern hanging over us.  The media treatment was comprehensive, coherent and constant.  It was certainly interesting to watch the communication strategy as the country informed and prepared its citizens so efficiently. The Minister of Health spoke frequently and the President spoke to the country on television and visited hospitals to reiterate the government support for the medical and support staff.  At first, it actually felt comforting to be so continually informed.  But of course it wasn’t really comforting.  There were all those families that had been skiing in the Alps during Spring Break who were about to return to France.  By February 28 we started to consider returning home and booked a return flight through Montreal on March 3rd, for which we paid a considerable sum – and lost the long planned visit in addition to the lost money.  Upon arrival in Montreal, we were surprised that only passengers who had been to Iran were asked to identify themselves, not Italy.  And no evidence of temperature taking.  The only bright spot was not being charged for exceeding the limit on expenditure free of duty!

So, on the evening of March 3rd we returned to the winter snow and ice of one of the coldest capital cities in the world, which we had been so happy to escape.  At that point there were no COVID-19 cases in Ottawa.  Safe for the moment, we thought. 

But maybe not.  After a couple of days, I developed coronavirus symptoms – though no fever.  Having travelled from afar, it seemed responsible to identify myself and my symptoms to Ottawa Public Health.  A nurse took an excruciatingly detailed history on the phone and sent me off to the nearest hospital emergency.  The young fellow registering incoming patients whipped around in his little glass cubicle and put on a mask and gloves before touching my health card.  After a three-hour sit in a room by myself on a hard little chair (reminiscent of an earlier hard little hospital chair), a well-protected doctor came in and examined me, and sometime after that a nurse arrived, stuck two sticks down my nose, twirled them around and released me back to my bed where I stayed for an inordinate amount of time.

So, I had brought something home from France, but thank goodness not the really dangerous virus.  But whatever virus it was, it made me good and sick.