Ballads and fan clubs: Canada’s medical health officers become unlikely celebs


TORONTO (Reuters) – Acclaimed in song and on Twitter fan accounts, including a feed devoted to one official’s choice of scarves, Canada’s medical health officers have become a popular, comforting sight in daily coronavirus briefings and gained a celebrity-like following.

Millions of Canadians, many working from home amid a widening lockdown, tune in every day to televised updates by public health officials across the country.

When British Columbia’s normally unflappable provincial health officer, Bonnie Henry, briefly broke down during a March 7 briefing, the outpouring of reaction made her a trending topic on Twitter.

It also inspired two Vancouver women to pen “Dear Dr. Bonnie,” a song that has amassed 13,000 views on YouTube.

“You will lead us through self-isolation, we’ll work from home for you, order in groceries too. We will cancel all our fun vacations, we’ll stay inside for you, maybe a month or two,” sing the pair to the tune of “Dear Theodosia” from the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton.”

Toronto’s medical officer of health, Eileen de Villa, has a Twitter fan account – for her scarves.

The parody account @de_scarf has gained thousands of followers since launching last week on the social media site to track de Villa’s daily neckwear.

One floral scarf, the account noted, was “serving watercolour realness.”

Asked by reporters how many scarves she owned, de Villa said: “I’m not sure. Many? But I’m happy to take suggestions if you have particular patterns that you’d like to recommend.”

Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, has made the phrase “plank the curve” a common household phrase for Canadians and a popular hashtag on social media.

Tam is at the center of Canadian government ads that began airing this week urging citizens to stay home.

In Quebec, an online petition appealing for the province’s public health director, Horacio Arruda, to share his recipe for Portuguese tarts has collected over 1,500 signatures.

In Alberta, T-shirts with the face of Chief Medical Officer Deena Hinshaw and the words: “We are in this together, even if we are far apart” are being sold online.

All proceeds will be donated to local food banks, said the website’s organizers.

“These guys are on the frontline, making the biggest impact,” said Steve Joordens, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto. “If they did a good job, if we felt like they’re helping us win, we start to idolize them a little.”

Reporting by Denise Paglinawan; Editing by Amran Abocar and Peter Cooney