BY IAN PATTISON

Living close to Minnesota, as those of us in Thunder Bay and much of the Northwest do, news of the virtual closure of the Canada-U.S. border this week came as a bit of a shock -- inevitable, given rampant spread of the novel coronavirus, but startling nonetheless. And perhaps no one was more startled than Justin Trudeau -- not by the news, since he helped to write it, but by the way it was disseminated.

Big bilateral announcements are usually co-ordinated and presented in a formal manner. But here’s what happened:

Wednesday, March 18, 9:45 a.m. U.S. President Donald Trump tweets: “We will be, by mutual consent, temporarily closing our Northern Border with Canada to non-essential traffic. Trade will not be affected.”

10:30 a.m., Prime Minister Trudeau, formally in a nationally-televised address, confirms the closure to non-essential travel -- shoppers and tourists. He sought to reassure businesses and individuals that essential travel will continue and supply chains “will not be affected.”

Trump, though, again seeming to go off script, left the door open to a shutting down of cross-border commerce, saying there would be no restrictions on trade “at this moment.”

In response, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said there is “absolute agreement” to keep the border open and protect the $2.7-billion in daily trade that is “essential to the economies and well-being of both Canadians and Americans.”

Health Minister and Thunder Bay-Superior North MP Patty Hajdu -- the strongest cabinet performer on this file -- pointed to Pigeon River. Saying her riding is close to a border crossing into Minnesota, she specified that non-essential travel is for things like packages and cigarettes.

That will have made the folks at Ryden’s shudder. Most of the business in their border store, duty-free shop and gas station comes from people who live in and around Thunder Bay. Statistics show 197,591 personal vehicles with 409,965 passengers entered Minnesota through Pigeon River in 2019. Ryden’s remains open for now and advises they will hold packages until it is safe for people to pick them up.

Elsewhere on the coronavirus front, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had some candid advice for his citizens and, by extension, those elsewhere: “Stop hoarding. I can’t be more blunt about it. Stop it. It is not sensible, it is not helpful and it has been one of the most disappointing things I have seen in Australian behaviour in response to this crisis.”

The same thing is happening in Thunder Bay. For reasons that defy logic and repeated advice, shoppers are continually cleaning out stores of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, canned goods and, if you’re not at a grocery store first thing in the morning, don’t expect to find basic food items like chicken and ground beef.

Look, supply chains are designed to keep stores supplied every day. So you don’t need to buy two months’ worth of TP. And since most of us are staying home as much as possible, and since proper hand-washing is the most effective means of prevention, a gallon of Purell is ridiculous.

There’s a distiller in Toronto that’s switched vodka production to aloe hand sanitizer because hoarding of the brand name stuff has denied it to so many people -- including nurses and ER doctors who called to ask if they could get some. That’s what hoarding does.

It’s understandable that some people panic in situations like this but we need to listen to those who know best. Reduce social interaction and focus on prevention and care for yourself and your community.

Here are some wonderful examples.

Thunder Bay’s Snow Angels, a group of LU students and friends who took up shovelling shut-ins’ driveways for the winter, have turned their generous attention to grocery shopping for those who are in need of essentials and can’t go out. They’re on Facebook.

As a way to support both individuals and restaurants, Makkinga Contractors will provide meals to families who have faced layoffs, are quarantined or can’t manage to eat well. Email your situation to supportlocal@makkinga.ca and they’ll pick 20 families each week and arrange for them to pick up a meal at one of our amazing local restaurants.

Those local restaurants are really hurting right now. Many of them have set up take-out and/or delivery options. Please, please seek them out and support these men and women who have established Thunder Bay as such a mecca for good local food. That goes for our farmers, too. There's a great list of restaurants offering special services in a Wednesday post on a new Facebook page, Caring For Thunder Bay and Surrounding Area.

Running low on beer? At Sleeping Giant Brewery you can shop online. Select brewery pick-up and they’ll bring it out to your car (Bay Village Coffee will do the same) or select free next-day delivery on orders of $40 or more (within city limits between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.).

Bored yet? The Arkells are turning isolation into creativity. The Hamilton band -- a favourite in Thunder Bay -- has initiated the Flatten the Curve Music School. Each day on Instagram it posts chords to one of its songs and then, at 1 p.m, it comes on live to play, discuss, teach and listen to those who choose to learn and cover them.

For those who usually like to watch movies with friends, there’s a Google Chrome extension called Netflix Party that allows multiple people to remotely watch a Netflix show or movie while chatting at the same time.

“If You’re Stuck Inside, Might as Well Enjoy this List of Animal Cams” is the headline on an adventure-journal.com story with links in the comments to more, including an eagles’ nest with eggs. Endless fascination.

By the way, we should be prepared to practise social distancing for a while yet. Because, after all, to flatten the curve means to lengthen it. Only when we see cases declining over time can we even think about beginning to take our foot off the gas.

In China and South Korea, where exceptionally strict isolation measures were put in place, that took about 2 ½ months. If we ease off too early we risk a resurgence in the disease and we’ll have to start all over again. So, please heed the strong advice of those who know what we need to do and don’t go out unless you absolutely have to. Practise those familiar healthy habits about keeping clean and safe. You can’t overdo it.

Finally, in case you missed it (in the snow!), Spring officially arrived Thursday at 11:49 p.m. So there’s that.

Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.

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