Justin Trudeau in home isolation: ‘Daddy’s on an important phone call’

  • >>Catherine Porter and Ian Austen, The New York Times
    Published: 2020-03-24 09:43:45 BdST

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A woman wearing a facemask crosses a street in Toronto on March 16, 2020. The New York Times

He has been stuck inside his house in Ottawa since March 12 with his three young children. He has been juggling work meetings on his phone with parenting and household duties normally executed by his staff or his wife, who is sick.

Like millions of people around the world, Justin Trudeau has been improvising a new housebound routine in the time of the new coronavirus. The difference is, he’s running a G7 country.

Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, was the first leader of a major industrialised country to go into self-isolation, when his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, came down with flulike symptoms and later tested positive for the virus.

On Sunday, Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, became the second, after learning that her doctor, who had given her a pneumonia shot a few days earlier, had tested positive for the virus.

Trudeau could give her a few tips, since he has become a model for the prescribed way to prevent further spread of the disease — working alone in his home study, without his usual political aides or personal staff like nannies or cleaners.

“We are following medical advice, as should all Canadians,” he said at a news briefing, set up outside the front door of his house with cameras and reporters stationed a safe distance away. These daily briefings are the only time he has ventured outside his home since entering isolation.

Trudeau says he is healthy and has not displayed any symptoms of the virus himself.

The initial reaction in Canada to his situation was mixed, reflecting the country’s deep political divide. Some Canadians wished the prime minister well and praised him for “truly leading by example.” Others responded with personal attacks and demanded he stay isolated indefinitely.

Almost two months after the first Canadian was diagnosed with the coronavirus, the country’s count had risen by Monday morning to 1,474 confirmed cases and 20 deaths.

Trudeau’s schedule has continued apace, from within the confines of a government-owned 153-year-old red brick home, called Rideau Cottage, where he and his family have lived since being elected, because the country’s official prime minister’s residence is dangerously dilapidated and the prospect of renovating it politically toxic.

He has hosted daily meetings with his Cabinet, checked in with provincial leaders and discussed strategies with Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, and the French president Emmanuel Macron. He made the decision with President Donald Trump to mostly close the border between their countries — the world’s largest international border — and introduced an economic package worth $82 billion in Canadian dollars to help Canadians weather the virus fallout. And he has done all of it by phone.

The one exception was a G7 teleconference, which required a technician in rubber gloves to enter the house and set up a camera, according to Ben Chin, the prime minister’s senior adviser.

But with his wife in quarantine in another part of their home, Trudeau has become a full-time parent for the couple’s three children — Xavier, 12, Ella-Grace, 11, and Hadrien, 6.

A large box of Lego toys was dropped off, as are regular cooked meals. But there is no one except the prime minister inside to clean up, do laundry or oversee the children’s activities.

Trudeau was a few minutes late for one briefing with his staff, Chin said, because he was finishing the bath-time routine for Hadrien.

“You could hear the kids running around laughing, and playing in the background, and coming over saying, ‘Come on daddy, let’s do this,’” said Chin, who also has been in self-isolation since hugging a friend who later tested positive for the virus.

He added: “You heard the half-muffled reasonable dad voice: ‘Daddy’s on an important phone call right now. I can’t do that.’”

The prime minister’s daughter has become his official photographer, snapping photos of him working in his office to send out on social media.

Trudeau addressed the country’s children on Sunday, thanking them for “helping your parents work from home, for sacrificing your usual day, for doing math class around the kitchen table and for trusting in science.”

He told them he understood their pain at lost play dates and off-limits playgrounds. “I get it from my kids as well,” he said. “They’re watching a whole lot more movies, but they miss their friends and at the same time, they’re worried about what’s going on out there in the world and what their future may hold.”

Though Trudeau has acknowledged the situation is “an inconvenience and somewhat frustrating,” he has not belabored it. Since 2015, when he first came to power, Trudeau’s global superstar status has dimmed, as has his penchant for capturing the spotlight with funky socks and selfies.

Last fall, he was reelected but with a much weakened mandate. But the majority of Canadians said that Trudeau’s government is responding well to the crisis, according to two polls released last week.

“His spirits are high — in a weird way, I’m sure he’s having a good time with the kids because it’s not something he normally gets to do very often,” Chin said of his boss. “And I think the kids, for their part, are seeing what he does for a living, in a more full way.”

Unlike Trump, Trudeau has not undergone a test to confirm if he has the virus. While that might have made his life easier, it would have contravened the protocol in Ontario, the province where the prime minister resides, of only testing people with symptoms.

Canadians, in general, are enraged by any suggestion of special treatment for elected officials.

“Our life is very privileged compared to many people who don’t have same supports of living circumstances,” said John Tory, the mayor of Toronto, Canada’s largest city. He went into self-isolation the same day Trudeau did, and has similarly continued working — setting up a studio in his condominium’s kitchen, where he uses a stack of family photo albums and coffee table books to prop up his iPad while he conducts regular television interviews.

“The Canadian part of it is this: We believe very strongly if you are telling other people to do something you have to do it yourself,” he said. “I call it eating your own cooking.”

Tory said his doctor offered him official “parole” on Wednesday night, exactly two weeks after he returned from a work trip to London. Trudeau said in a briefing on Monday that “there is still a week to go in my self isolation.”

When Canada’s Parliament holds a special slimmed-down sitting on Tuesday, when its members are expected to pass various coronavirus-related measures, his deputy, Chrystia Freeland, will fill in for him.

 

c.2020 The New York Times Company