SHERBROOKE – While passengers aboard the good ship St. Mary’s should keep calm and carry on, the message is loud and clear from the officers on watch: The time has come to batten down the hatches.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the municipality confirmed the following measures Monday: “The Recplex is closed for the season; the Fitness Center is closed until further notice; all recreation programming is cancelled until March 31, 2020, at which time it will be reassessed; and the Sherbrooke Library is closed for three weeks starting March 16, 2020.”
The transfer station will remain open, as will the municipal office – though the municipality urges using online transactions wherever possible. Meanwhile, community centre activities remain at the discretion of individual organizations – though, again, the municipality recommends prudence and adherence to the Nova Scotia Health Authority’s guidelines for social distancing.
These include: avoiding close contact with other people (remaining two metres apart); avoiding crowds and gatherings (parties, weddings, sports events, and other group activities); shopping and riding public transportation during off-peak hours; greeting one another with waves, rather than handshakes, hugs, or kisses; and staying home if sick, especially those suffering from fevers or coughs.
“COVID-19 is a reality we have to consider here, along with the rest of the world,” St. Mary’s Warden Michael Mosher said. “We really can’t stick our heads in the sand. We are committed to protecting the health and safety of our residents, councillors, staff and customers by reducing the risk of coming in contact with the virus.”
Sherbrooke Village Museum’s Executive Director Stephen Flemming echoed the sentiments. “As we are in the off season with no events planned for the moment, we are monitoring the situation at this point,” he said last week, adding on Monday, “Staff that can work from home will do so. The very few others will socially space. Anyone in contact with anyone that has travelled abroad will self-isolate for two weeks.”
For the Sherbrooke area, the economic impact of the virus and the necessary precautions could be significant. Each year, the historic village, interpretation centres, guided tours, and museum generate substantial direct and indirect tourism revenue up and down the Eastern Shore. Between 2015 and 2019, an estimated 136,000 people visited the cultural facilities, up about 27 per cent overall compared with the previous three-year period (2011-14). The regular season, which runs from May to October, routinely attracts visitors from western and central Canada, Quebec, the United States, and northern Europe.
According to a recent FAQ by the Centre for International and Strategic Studies, “At the sectoral level, tourism and travel-related industries will be among the hardest hit as authorities encourage ‘social distancing’ and consumers stay indoors.
“The International Air Transport Association warns that COVID-19 could cost global air carriers between $63 billion and $113 billion in revenue in 2020, and the international film market could lose over $5 billion in lower box office sales. Similarly, shares of major hotel companies have plummeted in the last few weeks. Restaurants, sporting events and other services will also face significant disruption.”
Said Flemming, “No public events are planned at this time. We will continue to evaluate as we go.”
In fact, constant vigilance seems to be the watchword for everyone as the disease continues its unstoppable march through much of the world. The Guysborough Youth Travellers, from Guysborough Academy, were scheduled to depart for a week in Japan over the March break, but those plans were cancelled, as reported last week.
Since then, several new presumptive and confirmed cases of the flu-like virus – which has spread to 121 countries, infected an estimated 133,000 people, and killed nearly 5,000 since its appearance in December – have appeared in all three Maritime provinces and Newfoundland and Labrador.
According to its public statement, “The Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s will continue to provide updates as new information develops and encourages residents to follow the Health Canada and Nova Scotia Health Authority guidelines in order to stay safe. If you have any questions, we ask that you please phone the office at 902-522-2049, instead of coming in, when at all possible.”