'Stay the blazes home' becomes a Canadian pandemic rallying cry

Ottawa (AFP) –


"Stay the blazes home": the salty call by the premier of Canada's Atlantic coast province of Nova Scotia has become a rallying cry in the coronavirus pandemic fight.

The comment during a televised COVID-19 briefing last week by Liberal Premier Stephen McNeil, exasperated by people who were ignoring a ban on public gatherings to stroll crowded beaches or go to parties, has since appeared on T-shirts and mugs.

The catchphrase also inspired a rock song by Canadian artists The Stanfields, a few Celtic ditties, and an ale by Garrison Brewing of Halifax that claims to be, like the premier, "refreshingly unfiltered."

The word "blazes" is a local euphemism for "hell" or other bawdy terms used to express outrage.

"Stay the blazes home. Think about the common good. Stay the blazes home. If you got the inkling. You wanna go to town. Remember there's a nasty bug going around," The Stanfields sang in a home-made music video posted online.

"Pay what you can," the band's website notes, with all proceeds going to the charity Feed Nova Scotia.

My Home Apparel and other local clothing companies have sold thousands of T-shirts and other apparel with the message emblazoned on them, with proceeds donated to local food banks, homeless shelters and a COVID-19 relief fund.

Socks, hoodies, and underwear with McNeil's face on them and the phrase printed on the waistband have also been hot sellers.

"People are having fun with the phrase, and I think it's okay to find the humour in these words. After all we could all use a bit of humor now," McNeil said.

"But it's important that people understand and heed the message behind the words," he added.

- Better than straight science -

The 55-year-old premier, who lives with his wife in the house he grew up in, has said his use of the term was deliberate to try to jar people about the serious threat posed by the COVID-19 virus and the need to social distance to slow its spread.

In his daily briefings, he has hammered: "stay home and follow public health protocols," while criticizing long lines of shoppers at grocery stores that have remained open, and shaming "reckless and selfish" people who gathered for house parties during the government-ordered lockdown.

Nova Scotia was the last province in Canada to report a case of the coronavirus. As of Thursday, there were 579 confirmed cases in the province, including three deaths. One hundred and 76 have so far recovered.

"Flattening the curve in Nova Scotia will require all of us to work together and follow the public health orders. The coming weeks are crucial," McNeil said.

Drone images of eerily empty Halifax streets by public broadcaster CBC appeared to show the message was finally getting through.

Dalhousie University business professor Ed McHugh agreed.

"It worked," he told AFP. "Everyone heard the message and are now following the advice of the premier."

"It worked much better than the straight scientific information that we'd been getting every day for five weeks, with officials telling us day after day to wash our hands and physically distance," McHugh said.

He explained it this way: "As a society we tend to have a short attention span and people were tuning out. They knew what they were supposed to do but were just tired of hearing it."

"What the premier did was authentic, he stood out and got through all the clutter, creating an earworm."

"In a quirky way, people liked it. Stephen is pretty straightforward and actually doesn't show his sense of humour often, so people that day said to themselves, 'Huh, he's human,' and the message got through."