­Adjusting to the new normal: Level of response to coronavirus continues to change rapidly

By Gordon Lambie, with files from the Canadian Press

As if a switch had been flipped, the global and local response to COVID-19, also referred to as the novel coronavirus, took on a dramatic new pace at the end of last week. That pacing did not slow down over the weekend, as new guidelines and requirements rolled out from different levels of government daily.
As of this writing, Quebec Premier Francois Legault has declared a public health emergency in Quebec, asking that people 70 years old and older stay at home and ordering the closure of gathering places such as bars, theatres, gyms and movie theatres, in addition to the mandatory closing of schools and daycares that was announced on Friday. Under the most recent directive, restaurants are allowed to stay open for the time being but have been asked to limit the number of clients to 50 per cent capacity.
“What I say to Quebecers is we have to limit outings,’’ Legault said. “We should go out only to work, buy bread, go to the pharmacy, get health care, take a walk or go help people age 70 and up.’’
Businesses and stores unrelated to entertainment and recreation remain accessible at this point.
Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province’s Director of Public Health, said the closures announced Sunday also apply to libraries, pools, spas, sauna, ski and trampoline centres, arcades, gyms, dance studios, buffets and sugar shacks.
He said the measure was intended to ensure that people didn’t “move the problem elsewhere’’ by seeking new places to gather in light of the closure of schools and daycares in the province for the next two weeks.
Legault said he would also like to see the border closed to foreign tourists and will continue to discuss the issue with the Federal government.
The directive came as Quebec’s number of confirmed cases rose by 11 on Sunday, from 24 to 35. According to the province’s Public Health department on Sunday afternoon, there were four confirmed cases in the Estrie administrative region and nine in the Monteregie. This compares to 317 cases across the country, (299 confirmed, 18 presumptive, 11 resolved.)
The growing list of banned gatherings triggered a chain of cancellations at different points over the last few days, often with information changing from one day to the next. Although initially saying they would maintain their annual International Women’s Day Banquet, for example, the Lennoxville and District Women’s Centre eventually ended up cancelling the event and instead distributing the meals meant to be served in individual containers on Friday afternoon.
At the Federal level, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on Canadians to avoid unnecessary travel outside of the country during a press conference on Friday, and that message was escalated on Saturday by Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne to state that those Canadians who are currently abroad should make their way back home “while (commercial flights) remain available,” since many countries are adjusting entry and exit requirements and many airlines are cancelling flights.
The Federal government has also indicated that flights which do return to Canada will also be diverted to a limited number of specific airports. Although that announcement was made at noon on Friday, the specifics of which airports and what screening procedures will be put in place for passengers was still not available on Sunday afternoon. All Canadians returning from abroad are being strongly encouraged to self-isolate for 14 days.
Municipalities across the province and region have taken their own steps to support social distancing measures.
On Friday Sherbrooke officially suspended all civic receptions, conferences, and professional travel in addition to closing municipal libraries, swimming courses, free swim periods, and arenas. It was also recommended that citizens do as much business as possible with the city either over the phone or online. A website with more information on the municipal measures has been set up at sherbrooke.ca/covid19.
On Sunday afternoon Sherbrooke Mayor Steve Lussier issued an additional call for the cooperation of the population while also announcing the additional closure of the Julien-Ducharme centre, and the fact that the municipal council meeting scheduled for Monday night will have a cap on spaces available.
“If the measures are strict, it is only in the interest of protecting citizens,” Lussier said.
Planned municipal byelections were postponed in 29 municipalities, including St.-Isidore-de-Clifton, Brome and Waterloo, and Many local church services were streamed live on the internet on Sunday instead of gathering people together in person.
In addition to discontinuing all in-person academic activities for the next two weeks, Bishop’s University’s senate made the decision that regardless of the status of the University’s operations on March 30, students will not be required to return to the campus to attend classes or to take in-person exams. Professors were asked to prepare alternative means to allow students to complete their studies, based on the fact that the majority of the Winter 2020 semester had already been completed.
The CIUSSS de l’Estrie CHUS, the regional healthcare institution, followed through with its commitment from Thursday to open four new testing centres in the region. As of 2:30 p.m. on Sunday roughly 715 people had been tested. The centres will remain open until further notice at the Hôtel-Dieu in Sherbrooke, the Granby Hospital, as well as though emergency services in Lac-Mégantic and Asbestos.
The healthcare body also announced on Sunday that users who return or have been in contact with a person returning from a trip outside Canada will have their regular care or services postponed, unless these are essential to avoid serious consequences for their health. The population aged 70 and over receiving services deemed important, but not essential, will also have these services postponed. Activities in day centers, in the hospital or other platforms, respite services or temporary accommodation services for people who are losing their autonomy, have an intellectual disability, or have autism spectrum disorder, a physical impairment or a mental health problem will be canceled. Group activities for young people, like Bébé Trucs, will not take place, and several surgeries, interventions and non-emergency investigations will also be postponed and rescheduled over time.

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