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Passengers wait to be tested for COVID-19 after they arrive at Toronto Pearson International Airport on Feb. 15, 2021.

CARLOS OSORIO/Reuters

Eventually, this pandemic is going to be history. Eventually, nearly all Canadians will be vaccinated – maybe by August, or September or October. The destination will be reached later than in the United States, or the United Kingdom, or the European Union, or Israel, or Chile, but it will be reached, eventually.

Infections have already fallen a long way from the second-wave peak and they will plummet, eventually, from coast to coast. The number of COVID-19 deaths in Canada currently stands at more than 22,000, but new deaths will drop, eventually, to very low levels and maybe even to nil. Eventually, the economy will fully reopen. Eventually, it will be safe and normal to go to a restaurant, to travel and to go to the office.

Eventually, it’s all going to work out.

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But right now? Right now, Canada’s pandemic response remains located somewhere between comparatively mediocre and completely FUBAR.

Take the Trudeau government’s new hotel quarantine rules for international airline passengers. It involves testing for the virus on arrival, and quarantining travellers at a hotel until the test comes back negative, which usually takes a day or two. Well-governed countries from Australia to Hong Kong have long been smoothly enforcing even tougher rules, with enforced isolation-hotel stays of two weeks in the former and three weeks in the latter.

Reasonable people can debate the best way to screen travellers, including whether to give a pass to the growing number of people who have been vaccinated. What Ottawa proposed was not the only option, but it should not have been difficult to execute. We’re talking about putting people in hotel rooms, making sure they stay there and sending them meals from room service.

But in Canada, many simple things have become shockingly difficult for our governments. After spending the better part of a year ignoring the need for a proper screening and quarantine system for travellers, the Trudeau government finally announced one in January. Then it gave itself nearly a month before it introduced the new measures.

The result was widely reported as chaos, starting with travellers trying to follow the law by booking a room and continuing into the hotels themselves.

Other countries that long ago flattened their COVID-19 curve thereafter used effective border controls to prevent the introduction of new cases. New South Wales, an Australian state with a population of 7.5-million, currently has zero domestically acquired active virus cases, but 40 quarantined cases from international travel. This is what comes from prudent public-health measures at home, plus well-aimed measures at the border.

On the bright side, if the country’s system for screening for border-crossing infections is not up to scratch, Canadians should be somewhat less concerned about that than would be Australians. That’s because unlike Australia, Canada has lots of domestic cases of the virus. With the exception of the four Atlantic provinces – which used Australian-style measures to crush the pandemic locally, and border screening and quarantine to minimize the importation of new infections – the rest of Canada still has more than enough COVID-19 in the community to potentially spark new waves.

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As for the country that normally sends the most travellers to Canada – the U.S. – it is far ahead in the race to vaccinate. As of Tuesday, the United States had given 23 shots for every 100 people. Canada’s vaccination rate is just 5.2 per 100.

Yes, all Canadians who want a shot will get it, eventually. In the interim, however, a world of travel and business is likely to begin reopening earlier in other parts of the world, where far more people will be inoculated sooner.

The bottom line is that outside of the Atlantic provinces, the response to COVID-19 over the past year, from the provinces and the feds, has been various degrees of mediocre. Canada thinks of itself as one of the world’s best-managed countries, but our pandemic fight has rarely been well managed, and our results tell the tale.

Our death rates are lower than the worst-hit countries, such as the U.S., but massively higher than the most successful, such as New Zealand or Japan. Our public-health responses, directed by the provinces, have too often been ill conceived or poorly executed. And Ottawa’s vaccine-acquisition strategy, which aimed to put us ahead of the rest of the world, has so far left Canada lagging far behind.

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