Your guide to COVID-19 and its impact on life in Canada

Travel restrictions, school closures and event cancellations are the new normal in Canada, and phrases like “self-isolation” and “social distancing” are now part of the collective lexicon.

Developments in the global COVID-19 pandemic are nearly constant — and it’s certainly difficult to keep track of everything that’s happening.

CBC News has compiled a roundup of stories, explainers and videos on a wide range of topics to keep you up to date on the latest information about the coronavirus.

Latest guidance for Canadians on travel and returning home

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has warned Canadians of a long road ahead. Travel restrictions, social distancing protocols and business closures could all continue longer than you might expect.

The United States border crossing at the Peace Arch Canada in Surrey, B.C., closed on Friday to non-essential travel. Truckers hauling freight, health professionals and others who live on one side and work on the other are still allowed to cross. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Border restrictions are now in place, and Canadians are being stranded abroad as they struggle to pay for expensive last-minute tickets. They are fighting to get home from all over the world, from Morocco to Peru and Algeria, and travel agents are scrambling to help. Read more here.

Canadian airlines have started ramping up repatriation flights for those Canadians stuck abroad, while at the same time reducing domestic flights due to lack of demand. A 450-seat flight from Morocco arrived this weekend, though passengers urged the government to help others still stranded. Meanwhile, Prescott, Ont., Mayor Brett Todd says some snowbirds returning to Canada are stopping to shop instead of going straight home into self-isolation, and in the process “exposing people to real risk.”

Health Minister Patty Hajdu said returning Canadian travellers, starting at midnight March 25, will have to enter a mandatory, 14-day period of isolation under the Quarantine Act. On March 22, she said she would consider criminal penalties for those travellers who don’t self-isolate at home for at least 14 days to reduce community spread.

Going beyond international travel, some provinces have recommended isolation for anyone crossing even provincial or territorial borders. The Northwest Territories has opted to fully ban travel into the territory for non-residents, with limited exceptions.  

WATCH | More aggressive measures needed to stop spread of COVID-19, says Toronto critical-care doctor:

‘Let’s overreact,’ says Dr. Michael Warner so Canada doesn’t experience a health-care crisis like the one gripping Italy. 7:12

What kind of financial support will Canadians receive?

Last week, the federal government announced an $82-billion support package for businesses and citizens. On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau further announced a $5-billion credit program to support farmers directly. Read more here.

Many Canadians are being laid off because of the pandemic as businesses scale back or shut down. More than 500,000 people applied for Employment Insurance days after the package was announced. Read more here.

Applicants for EI usually need a medical certificate along with records of employment, though the new rules allow quarantined workers to apply without the certificate. If you can’t apply because you are quarantined, you can also file for EI sickness benefits later and have the claim backdated. Read more about the EI claims process here

There is also a proposed wage subsidy for small businesses such as non-profit organizations, registered charities and some Canadian-controlled private corporations. Read more about how to apply here. 

Some banks are also offering mortgage deferrals, although there are worries the program could lead to lowered credit scores and jumps in mortgage payments. Read more here.

Meanwhile, several grocery chains have announced they are increasing wages or hiring temporary workers to keep up their shelves stocked during the pandemic. Read more here.

What’s happening in the job market?

Professional recruitment firms are seeing openings dry up for all types of employment in just about every sector of the economy.

“In terms of the labour market in Canada, it’s been an incredible collapse … that I’ve certainly never seen in my decades in the business,” said Jeff Aplin, chief executive officer of the David Aplin Group.

The travel, tourism, retail, restaurant and convention industries are just some of the hardest hit, he said, and likely face the biggest challenge recovering after the virus risk abates.

However, there is job growth in some limited sectors right now. For instance, Aplin expects job opportunities in technology and IT from the main telecom and internet corporations and from firms big and small that play a role in providing or supporting online services. In addition, the health-care, delivery and grocery sectors are seeing growth in  demand for their services. Read more here.

Do I have COVID-19, the flu or a cold?

Depending on the severity of the illness, COVID-19 can present with a variety of different symptoms — or no symptoms at all. Some mimic the flu or common cold, while the World Health Organization says they have begun to investigate whether a loss of smell and taste could be a telltale marker of the disease. With all of these different possibilities, if you feel sick, when should you get tested? 

Some basic facts about the virus, its symptoms, prevention and what to do if you believe you are infected are here.

For pregnant women, there could be additional concerns and uncertainty over the potential impact of the coronavirus for them and their babies. Read our breakdown of what pregnant women need to know about COVID-19 here.

WATCH | Coronavirus — What are the symptoms?

It starts out looking like a regular flu. But when the virus attacks lung cells, shortness of breath ensues, says family physician Dr. Peter Lin. 0:27

What do I do if I think I have COVID-19?

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, the first step is to contact your health-care provider or local public health agency by email or telephone.They’ll be able to tell you if you’re eligible for testing in your area. Some communities have even launched drive-thru testing sites.

In Victoria nurses are screening residents for COVID-19 at a drive-thru testing clinic which was recently launched by Island Health along Cook Street. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

Most provinces and territories are limiting testing so that there will be enough for the highest priority patients, including health-care workers.

Do not show up unannounced at a clinic or hospital. However, if you have a sharp turn in your condition, including shortness of breath, call 911 or your local emergency number. Read our guide to what to do in each province and territory.

The importance of staying home

As coronavirus cases continue to rise, Canadians are explicitly being told to stay home to protect their health, and the health of everyone in their communities. 

Reinforcing the government’s message of social distancing, Gov. Gen. Julie Payette issued a statement March 25, reminding Canadians to “resist the temptation to visit friends and neighbours.”

Such measures are taking on increasing importance. On Friday, police in Quebec City arrested a woman who tested positive for coronavirus while she was out for a walk.

WATCH | What to do if you’re self-isolating at home for COVID-19:

You might choose to self-isolate at home if you’ve been exposed, or think you’ve been exposed, to COVID-19. Ellen Mauro explains what to do. 1:50

Meanwhile, neighbours are banding together online to stay connected and are offering to deliver essential supplies to people who can’t make the trip. Some small gyms are also offering online classes. Read more here.

What’s the difference between social distancing and self isolation?

There are a lot of different terms floating around out there for ways to keep yourself healthy. Canadians should take different precautions based on their level of risk, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada

WATCH | How to social distance in the grocery store:

As Canadians avoid gatherings and crowds amid the COVID-19 outbreak, grocery stores present a challenge as people stock up and pick shelves bare. 2:07

People are understandably confused about what activities are safe and which ones aren’t anymore. CBC’s health unit has published a helpful guide to social distancing. Read more here.

What products are actually helpful?

Products are flying off the shelves — everything from disinfectant to toilet paper. Public officials are urging people not to stockpile, assuring Canadians there is enough of everything to go around. 

But what should you actually spend your money on?

If you’re buying hand sanitizer, make sure it’s at least 60 per cent alcohol. The old-fashioned habit of washing with soap and water works, too — even better than wearing surgical gloves

Wearing a mask can help prevent the spread of germs to others, but won’t necessarily protect you from catching the coronavirus. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Masks are already in short supply, even for health care workers. And a mask won’t necessarily protect you from catching the coronavirus. Read more here.

What you need to know about masks

Public health officials in North America discourage healthy people from wearing masks, saying there’s no evidence they provide effective protection against the spread of the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. But officials in Asia encourage it. And health workers here say they need masks for protection and are struggling with shortages.


Here’s a closer look at what public health officials and the research says about who should wear a mask, how to wear one properly and what kind of protection it offers.

I can’t find hand sanitizer. What does effective handwashing look like?

The National‘s Andrew Chang explored what proper handwashing looks like with the help of a black light and some helpful children. The results might surprise you.

WATCH | How to wash your hands using the WHO’s recommended method:

Using “glo germ,” a product that shows up under black light, Andrew Chang takes a first-hand look at how germs are transmitted, and how to wash them off our hands effectively. 7:03

I don’t actually feel sick. Could I still have coronavirus? 

Probably not, but there is some evidence that people can get infected with this virus and not show any symptoms, said Dr. Allison McGeer, an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital who worked on the front lines of the SARS epidemic in 2003.

Those people probably don’t carry it for any length of time, McGeer said. Their immune system will respond to it and they’ll get rid of it. The evidence so far is that those people are less likely to spread the virus than people who are sick. 

A hospital worker is seen at a staff COVID-19 assessment area outside Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver on Wednesday, March 18. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Part of the reason for all of this social distancing and keeping away from people, though, is there is a possibility that you could have this and not know it, she said. 

It’s also unclear if people can contract coronavirus for a second time once they have recovered from it, she noted. Read more here

Why experts say we need to increase social distancing

The spread of COVID-19 cases in Canada with no known link to travel — called community transmission — is already underway. Many think there are thousands of unreported cases, and the time to act to limit them is now. Read more here.

WATCH | What social distancing actually looks like:

Social distancing measures like working from home, school closures and cancelling sporting events could lead to a drop of new infections of coronavirus. 1:54

How should I explain what’s happening to my kids?

Explaining the coronavirus to children without upsetting them is a dilemma. Youth psychiatrist Dr. Rachel Mitchell, with Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, said it’s important to validate fears held by children, to listen to them and to be sure to speak to them at the age-appropriate level. If they have asked questions, answer them honestly, and don’t share any more information beyond what they asked. Read more advice here.

CBC Kids has published an informative video about social distancing just for them. Find it here.

WATCH | Coronavirus — How can you avoid catching it?

By now, you likely know not to touch your face. But if you do suspect you’ve already caught it, reach out by phone for assistance, says family physician Dr. Peter Lin. 1:02

What does all of this mean for pets?

A 17-year-old dog in Hong Kong originally tested positive for the coronavirus, but was later cleared. 

On Wednesday, it was announced that the dog, which belonged to a patient with COVID-19, had died. Vets in Hong Kong say the stress and anxiety of being in quarantine while under examination may have been a contributing factor. Read more here.

The World Health Organization has said there is no evidence that pets can be infected with the coronavirus.

WATCH | Coronavirus — How does it spread?

A report in the New England Journal of Medicine claimed a woman who wasn’t showing symptoms triggered a chain of coronavirus infections. Infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch explains how the report got it wrong. 3:25

What does a state of emergency mean?

Every province and territory in Canada has now declared either a state of emergency or public health emergency related to the coronavirus outbreak. These announcements give provincial and territorial governments extra powers that can, essentially, suspend people’s rights during a crisis, such as controlling their movement or forcing evacuations. Read more here.

A customer wearing a protective mask leaves a Tim Hortons with its dining area closed in Montreal on Tuesday, March 17, (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Will warmer weather stop the virus?

While the public and experts alike had hoped that the spread of COVID-19 would slow when warmer summer months arrived in Europe and North America, as happened in the 2002-03 SARS epidemic, that no longer seems likely. Though Southeast Asia has close travel, business and investment ties with China, there were few reported cases until recently. Health experts say that wasn’t due to its hot climate, but was instead caused by limited testing and under-detection.

“People in Europe hope warm weather will kill the virus,” said Tikki Pangestu, a professor at Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. “I doubt this will be the reality.” Read more here.

The European Centre for Disease Control has released a report, citing research that suggests summer heat is unlikely to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

The ECDC report cited preliminary analyzes from the outbreak in China which found the virus was able to maintain high levels of reproduction in tropical places with high humidity, such as Guangxi and Singapore.

WATCH: ‘Massive scale-up’ of public health capacities one of key ways to move forward, WHO says

Governments will need to go on the offence against the coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization, and that means ramping up efforts. 2:55

I’ve been getting strange emails related to the virus. Should I be concerned?

Fraudsters have been targeting Canadians with a variety of coronavirus-related scams, according to police.

These include: text messages offering free face masks in order to obtain your personal information, phishing emails designed to look like they come from the World Health Organization or Public Health Agency of Canada, or fake phone calls claiming you have tested positive for the virus and asking for your credit card details.

Police are urging Canadians to be aware of these scams and to check with friends, family or official government websites before giving away any information. Read more here

There is, however, one important exception to the rule. The federal government has asked some telecommunications companies to send text messages to Canadians who are still outside of Canada to help get in touch with them. 

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