Paul MacNeill

When coronavirus swept through China we watched with detached interest. Our anxiety rose as it spread to Europe and Canada’s west coast. And as it made its inevitable journey across the country and onto Prince Edward Island, fear of the pandemic’s potential repercussions grabbed us by the gut.

COVID-19 is unlike anything seen in generations. Fear is understandable. So is the slightly irrational fear exhibited by some. The unknown can be scary as hell.

But we are blessed to live in a province and country better prepared than most to fight back. Our front line health care providers are among the best trained and dedicated in the world. The face of our provincial response is Chief Health Officer Heather Morrison, who daily provides easily digestible, fact based information combining empathy with common sense action all Islanders must deploy to lower an individual’s risk of becoming infected and, equally as important, the risk of passing it on to others.

From his home, Premier Dennis King is exhibiting leadership on two fronts as he and his family self-isolate for 14 days (none are showing symptoms) while overseeing government’s response and keeping Islanders informed via video updates.

The next two or three months, no one really knows for sure how long, will be difficult. We’ve seen vacations upended, schools and universities closed and professional and amateur sporting events cancelled. The things that bring us together as a community are disrupted, as social distancing becomes part of our everyday banter and practice.

We now know Prince Edward Island is not immune. Our first positive case was reported last week. Now it’s not a question of if, but how big COVID-19 becomes.

Our aging population is a prime target for COVID-19. Before anyone whines about a cancelled game or concert, consider the greater good. Transmission is made easier when people gather in groups. When we minimize our own risk, we minimize the risk to our neighbours and family. The young can infect the elderly. Friends can infect friends. And strangers can have an unseen impact through random contact.

One of the major challenges the Island will face is ensuring the most vulnerable in society have access to testing and housing. Government should temporarily repurpose empty buildings to support the homeless and under-housed. How can we expect anyone to self-isolate if they have no place to go?

From a health care staffing perspective, it is understandable testing sites are initially only located in Charlottetown and Summerside, and only available by appointment. We cannot afford to stretch these professionals too thin.

But issues the provincial plan creates must be addressed. Public transportation does not exist in rural communities. Many of those potentially impacted are seniors on fixed incomes. If anyone lacks transportation, financial resources, or both to get to Charlottetown or Summerside, government must ensure it is not an impediment to access - and by extension impeding bringing COVID-19 under control.

These are unchartered waters for Island workers and business. No component of Island society will escape unscathed. We’re already feeling it. The federal government has closed the cruise ship industry until July 1. Even if it is lucky enough to reopen by then, cruise ships will have a tough time attracting customers for the foreseeable future.

The lobster industry, a vital cog to our provincial economy, is tanking as core markets in American, China and Europe carry on their own fight with COVID-19. There are calls to shut the Nova Scotia season down. It is entirely possible our fishers will face a similar call. If a closure were to occur, either because of a glut in the market or extended coronavirus outbreak, it will impact suppliers, hired hands and plant workers. Limiting public meetings and cancelling sporting events and concerts is good public policy but negatively impacts hotels, short-term rentals, restaurants, bars and all associated businesses. Musicians, artists and servers will directly feel the pinch.

Federal and provincial governments have a responsibility to minimize the financial impact on individuals and business. All levels of government recognize this. And while we are doing our best to bring COVID-19 to its knees, we can also help local merchants by shopping locally and supporting those businesses that support us.

It is said if people ultimately complain that the health care system over-reacted, it means the system worked. Let’s hope we hear a chorus of complaints soon.

Stay safe. Support your neighbours.

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