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What can I expect to happen during a pandemic?

It is difficult to say how much of an impact a flu pandemic will have as we do not know how many people will get ill or how ill they will become. However, most experts warn that in a widespread pandemic, our daily routines will be disrupted in some way.

It is estimated that 35% or more of the population will be too ill to go to work, and of those, more than 1% of could die. Organizations may choose to, or may have to, close operations because so many of their staff are either sick with flu or they are looking after ill family members.

Service Disruptions

Most businesses are expected to be operating at a lower staff level or have some level of reduced services. These disruptions may include:

  • Utilities (gas / hydro)
  • Banking
  • Grocery, pharmacies or other supplies
  • Health care, police, fire, paramedic, or public transportation
  • Municipal services such as water treatment and delivery, garbage removal, sewage treatment and maintenance
  • Government-run services (both federal and provincial) (e.g., passport office, social services, employment insurance, worker’s compensation, etc)

In addition, health care services may be overwhelmed with demands for care. Increased need for certain types of supplies (e.g. tissues, prescriptions) may make these items harder to get. Some supplies may not be available at all.

Cancelling of Public Gatherings

In order to slow the spread of the influenza virus, public health officials may request that activities in places where people meet be cancelled. This closure can include:

  • Schools
  • Childcare
  • Transportation (ground, rail and air)
  • Retail stores
  • Workplaces
  • Places of worship
  • Funerals
  • Community events (cultural - e.g. theatre / sporting events)

Other changes

People may experience a number of other changes as well.

  • Job duties may change. You may be trained for additional duties to help cover the tasks done by people who become ill. Job duties that would normally be done in person (face-to-face) may change to contact by telephone, mail, or e-mail – or the service may be stopped temporarily.
  • Some people may choose to stay at home and not go to work. You may or may not be paid for this time away from work – be sure to ask your employer about what rules apply in this situation.
  • Some people may be asked to work from home.

With people choosing to isolate themselves or being requested to stay home, businesses will see a change in their customer activities, especially business such as restaurants, theatres, sports, etc. People may also choose to limit their social activities for a time after the pandemic is over as well (similar to what happened after SARS was in Toronto).

Stress and fear will also be factors. People may have care for the sick. They may also be grieving for lost friends or family. With disruptions to businesses, there will likely be some unemployment and/or reduced incomes as a result of a pandemic.

While this information can sound very scary (or way too “science fiction”), it can happen. It is good to think about these things and plan ahead of time. Take steps now to be prepared.

How will I know what is going on?

It is impossible to know ahead of time what might be closed, when it might be closed, or for how long. Public health officials will be making those decisions as the pandemic progresses. You will be able to find out what is happening in your community through your local TV news, newspaper, and radio, or you can call your local public health department.