Canada’s political leaders marked one year since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by commemorating those who died and praising the health care and other essential workers who have kept society functioning amid the historic public health crisis.
“It has been a tough year — a heartbreaking year. But it has been a year we have faced together,” Trudeau said during a solemn speech in the House of Commons.
“And that is something we must never forget.”
Over 2.5 million people around the world have died from COVID-19, the deadly disease caused by the novel coronavirus whose rapid spread around the globe has disrupted social and economic life for millions of people. More than 22,000 of them in Canada.
Earlier this week, Trudeau designated March 11 a national day of observance to commemorate the victims of COVID-19 because it marks the one-year anniversary since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.
Sacrifices, secondary impacts
Trudeau spoke of the sacrifices Canadians have made by staying apart from each other to prevent the spread and the solidarity shown in the national effort to fight the virus.
“A year ago Canadians were asked to stay home and to stay safe. And yet even apart — or perhaps because we were apart, our communities became stronger and stronger,” he said.
Rising in the House after Trudeau, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole focused part of his speech on the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on individuals who lost jobs, on businesses that lost income and on others who faced hardship from the secondary impacts of the pandemic.
“In B.C., there have been 60 per cent more deaths from the opioid epidemic than from COVID-19. Increasing rates of domestic violence have been the shadow pandemic this past year. Youth mental health issues, presenting as anxiety to eating disorders, are alarmingly on the rise,” said O’Toole.
“The true cost of this pandemic on the lives and livelihoods of Canadians of all walks of life has been staggering.”
O’Toole included in his remarks criticism of the Trudeau government’s pandemic response, implying that health-care workers haven’t received enough support and that a slow rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations means it’s uncertain when the country will get back to a sense of normalcy.
But he qualified that by saying he hoped the vaccination campaign succeeds.
“Like many Canadians we are frustrated by the slower pace of vaccines than elsewhere, but we want the government to succeed for the health and well-being of Canadians so that we can get our lives back to normal,” O’Toole said.
Impact on mental health
In Ontario, where more than 7,000 people have died from COVID-19, Premier Doug Ford offered condolences to the families of those who died and recognized the difficulties others have faced in trying to limit the spread of the virus.
“Over the past year the vast majority of people have followed public health restrictions to stop the spread, and we recognize the extraordinary burden this has placed on individuals, families and businesses across Ontario,” said Ford in a statement.
“And the uncertainty created by the pandemic has had a devastating impact on our collective mental health — especially that of young people, who have been forced to put their lives on hold, and seniors who have had to isolate themselves from friends and family.”
Health Canada has approved four COVID-19 vaccines so far and 1.5 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated.
“More and more people are getting vaccinated every day,” Trudeau said at a news conference Tuesday. “That means more grandparents, health-care workers and vulnerable people are now safe.
“Our top priority is to get you your shot as soon as possible. No one will be left behind.”