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Paramedics wear respirators while responding to a medical call in downtown Winnipeg, on Nov. 1, 2020.

SHANNON VANRAES/Reuters

Meet the Ghost of Christmas Future. For the past few weeks, he’s been showing Canadians what could soon be.

Our possible pandemic future is there to see; it’s the present in Europe and the United States. They are further along a path that Canada appears to be following – but they’ve already reached destinations that, depending on our choices, we can still avoid.

Consider France. Between Nov. 1 and 7, its average number of daily new cases of COVID-19 was more than 54,400. That’s equivalent to about 31,000 cases a day in Canada – or about seven times this country’s current daily infection rate.

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Over the past week, France has also recorded an average of 540 pandemic deaths a day. That’s the equivalent of more than 300 deaths a day in Canada, or about five times this country’s current death rate.

But France’s death numbers have jumped more than fifty-fold – yes, really – in just three months. In the first week of August, France had just nine deaths a day.

Canada is following a similar path, though we started walking it later. In the second week of September, our daily number of deaths from COVID-19 was four. Last week, the daily number of deaths was 62.

Or consider the U.S., which is now recording a daily average of more than 155,000 new cases of COVID-19. That’s the equivalent of nearly 18,000 cases a day in Canada, or four times this country’s current tally.

But just two months ago, the U.S. infection rate was below where Canada is today. Canada suppressed the virus far more successfully over the summer than did the U.S., but both countries have been riding a rising curve since September.

What’s more, the U.S. tests more than 1.5-million people a day. That’s nearly three times Canada’s rate.

They’re seeing more of the COVID-19 iceberg, which means Canada’s true number of positive infections may already be much closer to the catastrophic American total. Our ignorance is definitely not bliss.

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As of Tuesday, the U.S. had recorded an average of 1,155 daily deaths over the previous week. That’s equal to about 130 deaths a day in Canada – or double Canada’s current death rate.

The number of U.S. deaths from COVID-19 hasn’t been rising as fast as its case numbers but, with this virus, death is a lagging indicator. It takes a couple of weeks for someone to go from infection to positivity, and a few more weeks for someone to become extremely ill and die. Today’s deaths are the result of infections that happened many weeks ago.

For the U.S., a much higher death toll in December appears to be already baked in. For Canada, reversing the climb in cases, and arresting a subsequent rise in deaths, is still possible.

In the long run, Canada’s pandemic future is on a highly positive track. In the New Year, vaccines are going to begin arriving, though the full rollout will take many months. But the distant future looks promising.

The immediate future is another story. We still have to deal with this wave of COVID-19, and possibly other waves, without the safety net of mass vaccination.

And right now, Canada’s numbers are not good. The trend is not good.

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It should have been possible to stem this wave with a lot more testing, contact tracing and facilities for people to isolate in. But those measures were not ramped up. We did not prepare for a future that is now our present.

That means getting Canada off the wrong track of a future of much higher cases, and many more deaths, falls to basic public-health measures, such as restrictions on indoor gatherings now in place in the country’s most populated areas.

Will these be enough? Or are even tougher measures going to be needed?

If governments are going to act, they have to act now. And if they are going to stay the course, they have to be confident that current measures will suffice.

Because of the long time lags from contact to infection to symptoms to, in the worst cases, hospitalization, there is no opportunity to “wait and see” how things go.

The steps we take or do not take today will determine what happens, and who dies, in a few weeks.

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The power to change course, and choose our future, is entirely in our hands.

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