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It’s hard to adjust the mind – and policy – to good news about the pandemic after more than a year of unrelenting bad. This country learned tough lessons about the perils of misplaced optimism, and about the frailty of supposedly robust diplomatic principles at a time when the whole world was clamouring for bits of polypropylene and latex gloves. We saw the folly of a health care system that operates at near-capacity in the best of times. We witnessed the horrific consequences of years of neglect of both provincial long-term care systems and federal emergency planning infrastructure.

It’s not over yet. Canada is still seeing more than 800 new COVID-19 cases on average per day, meaning that thousands of families across the country are still experiencing their own new acute crises each week. People are still being admitted to hospital. Some are dying.

But case counts, hospitalizations and deaths have dropped dramatically over the past couple of months. New daily cases are less than a 10th of what they were in April, and some hospital ICUs are without active COVID-19 patients for the first time since March, 2020. We now have access to millions of doses of vaccines that are practically miracles in their own right; they were developed faster than most had anticipated, and they work more effectively than had been deemed acceptable. And Canadians are stepping up to receive them at a pace unrivalled by our peers, with Canada now leading the world in the proportion of eligible residents who have received at least one dose.

This progress hasn’t much been reflected in policy and messaging, particularly at the federal level. Fully vaccinated Canadian travellers returning from abroad still have to report to government-approved quarantine hotels until July 5. Fully vaccinated foreign nationals still aren’t allowed to enter the country, unless for essential purposes. When asked Wednesday why the Public Health Agency of Canada still hasn’t produced guidelines for activities that those who have received two doses of vaccines may resume, Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam replied that the agency is working on it, but noted, “Even the most effective vaccines are not absolutely perfect and it is really important for people to protect each other as well.”

She is not wrong. Breakthrough infections among the fully vaccinated have been recorded in Canada, as well as in Israel, Britain and elsewhere. In fact, the director-general of Israel’s Health Ministry suggested that up to half of new COVID-19 cases recorded in a recent outbreak were among those who had been vaccinated. So far, those who have been infected postvaccination have not become critically ill – according to data from Israel, Scotland and other countries – which is among the most important metrics for public-health authorities to track and observe. There will inevitably be cases where even those who have received two doses will require hospitalization, and rare instances where some will still succumb to COVID-19. As Dr. Tam said, these vaccines are not absolutely perfect. But their task is not to prevent illness completely and entirely, but to protect against serious illness, to relieve the strain on our hospitals, and thus to allow families to reunite, businesses to reopen and residents to resume most normal activities.

If COVID-19 becomes a mostly mild illness that nearly everyone can deal with at home, then there is little justification for keeping the border closed and maintaining strict distancing protocols for fully vaccinated individuals. If anything, the focus should then shift to protecting those who remain vulnerable: the elderly, the immunocompromised and those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.

But even amid declining case counts and phenomenal reports of the efficacy of vaccination, Canadians have been slow to come around to this weird and foreign phenomenon called “good news.” Indeed, an Angus Reid poll published in late May showed that nearly half of respondents want to keep the border closed at least until September, and roughly one in five want to keep it closed until the end of 2021. The federal government’s decision to extend the closure until at least July 21 – against the urging of some U.S. lawmakers – seems to be rooted more in this sort of public opinion data, and not in any epidemiological projections about the risks of allowing in fully vaccinated travellers.

Caution is understandable. This country got burned repeatedly by lackadaisical border controls and premature provincial openings over the course of the past 15 months. But the difference now is that a majority of Canada’s population has been protected from severe illness, and that proportion is growing through the administration of about 450,000 doses each day. Concern for what might be should not obscure the incredible success of what has taken place over the past few months with regards to vaccination: A scientific marvel, an administrative feat and an extraordinary display of public action in Canadians going out en masse to receive their shots.

After a period of unprecedented suffering, Canada is finally starting to see some wins. It might do us all good to take a moment to appreciate that.

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