Roy Green: The coronavirus pandemic reaches a seminal moment

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Coronavirus outbreak: Mark Strahl calls suspension of parliament an ‘extraordinary day’
Speaking to reporters in Ottawa on Friday morning, Conservative MP Mark Strahl called the decision to suspend parliament over COVID-19 concerns an "extraordinary day" but said the Conservative Party would continue to hold the Trudeau government to account in whatever way they were able. – Mar 13, 2020

With the advent and international circulation of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, the world is entering a seminal period that will affect life on this planet for decades and likely longer.

The COVID-19 outbreak is joining Sept. 11, 2001, in that regard.

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History will record the sudden and cruel arrival of each and how the novel coronavirus pandemic will have imitated the terrorist assault at the World Trade Center by engaging — and in a deadly manner — the global community.

How many will lose their lives to each occurrence? Uncertain. Deaths attributable to COVID-19 are growing in these early days of the viral assault, while the repercussions of 9/11 continue to expand, already having precipitated international war as well as domestic political conflicts more than double the duration of the Second World War.

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The novel coronavirus is a stealthy presence for which there exists a societal but not medical antidote.

Social distancing — literally eliminating most accustomed physical contact and group engagement — is our primary defence against contracting the novel coronavirus. That means no handshaking, definitely no hugging and no high fives when the home team scores. Although such celebratory expression is increasingly unlikely, since the home team or teams aren’t playing in deference to COVID-19.

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Social distancing becomes standard to fight COVID-19

In some countries, social distancing has taken on Hollywood-disaster-film proportions: virtual national lockdowns; mandatory quarantines; and repeated temperature and basic health checks by those who venture into mostly abandoned public spaces.

Yet, the virus is not dependent on human-to-human transmission. COVID-19 expands its presence by waiting patiently on the, until now, non-threatening everyday goods we touch and bring into our lives. A moment of inattention, a slip into habitual behaviours like not thoroughly washing everything entering our space — never mind the need for consistent handwashing — and infection can result.

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Surreal defines the environment. A sunny and warm day beckoning with play and enjoyment is treated with suspicion and, increasingly, fear.

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On Sept. 10, 2002, I found myself in New York City, staring with disbelief at the crater where, a year earlier, the World Trade Center buildings had stood. My emotions were on a razor’s edge after, minutes earlier, having walked along the tribute fence at St. Paul’s Chapel across the street. Thousands of personal items, flags, mementoes — and the messages. Heartfelt. Confused. Determined. One piece of cardboard I will never forget read, in a child’s writing: “I love you, daddy.”

Earlier, a limo driver had declined to drive us to the site. He would drop us a block away. The driver, a refugee who had made New York City home years earlier, hadn’t been able to bring himself to visit the site where nearly 3,000 victims perished.

New York, the most diverse city in the world, was on edge, braced for a possible attack the next day.

I was there to anchor a 9/11 anniversary Corus radio network broadcast from a studio at WOR. From the radio station’s newsroom, there was a clear sightline to the gap in the skyline where the World Trade Center buildings had stood. Broadcasters spoke of having witnessed the airliners being flown into the towers.

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Americans thanked us for being there. Handshakes and pins from California firefighters paid respect to the New York Fire Department members who perished on 9/11. We received thanks from New York police officers, and syndicated radio psychologist Dr. Joy Browne hugged my producer and me for a long moment and began to cry. “Thank you, Canada, for coming and caring.”

By Sept. 11, 2002, international, military, political and societal repercussions of the events of one year earlier were well underway. Bombs had fallen and would continue to fall. The war on terrorism declared by former U.S. president George W. Bush was on.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Canadian health official advises against all non-essential travel outside country'
Coronavirus outbreak: Canadian health official advises against all non-essential travel outside country

Today, we await the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. We don’t know where it will lead or what the novel coronavirus will leave in its wake.

This is a seminal moment in human history. Everyone is in danger.

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Perhaps we’ll emerge more patient with and understanding of each other.

Who knows?

Roy Green is the host of the Roy Green Show on the Global News Radio network.

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