If you live in Atlantic Canada, feel free to stop reading right here. None of what follows applies to you. It might as well have happened in a foreign country.
The governments of Canada’s four easternmost provinces – two Liberal and two Progressive Conservative – have spent the past year enrolled in the COVID-19 gifted program. New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia will be graduating magna cum laude. Their early, aggressive action to suppress the virus and keep it down, allowing their economies to largely reopen, puts them on a par with the world’s most successful curve crushers, from Australia and New Zealand to Japan and South Korea.
The rest of Canada has been a different story.
If you want to take something positive from the past week, with cases spiking, again, and countermeasures being imposed, again, it’s that at least governments are learning. Failure isn’t the best teaching method – it would be better to get things right the first time, or the third. But after 13 months of being surprised that COVID-19 is still on the curriculum, Canada’s non-Atlantic governments are making progress.
For example, Ontario is moving to direct more vaccines to neighbourhoods with the highest case counts and to essential workers. In priority postal codes, people as young as 18 will be able to get a shot, and mobile clinics will be sent directly to places of work and worship. Other provinces have similar plans.
It’s a sharp pivot, and the right move. And it’s possible because of the progress finally being made on vaccine deliveries. Canada was expected to receive 2.2 million vaccine doses this week. If numbers continue to rise, Canada could vaccinate its way out of the pandemic by summer.
But before things get better, they’re getting worse – again. March saw an imprudent lowering of public-health measures, which epidemiological models had predicted would feed a new-variant third wave. Turns out the models were right. Again.
Mega Gym 24H in Quebec City is as good a symbol as any of that failure to learn – or, if you want to try to take something positive from this, the learning that comes from yet another predictable failure.
As of Wednesday, the facility had been linked to more than 400 infections and one death. Quebec City, where March’s falling case count led to restrictions on things such as indoor gyms being lifted far too soon, was back under a curfew. A haste to ditch public-health measures faster than the state of the pandemic allowed had (once again) led to more infections, and to the need for stronger countermeasures.
The methods were the opposite of those used in Atlantic Canada, so it’s no surprise the results were also the opposite.
On Thursday, a radio interviewer asked Ontario solicitor-general Sylvia Jones why the province waited so long to pull the emergency brake and introduce new public-health measures, when its science advisors and their models were predicting that case numbers and hospitalizations were about to explode.
“We wanted to make sure the modelling was actually showing up in our hospitals,” Ms. Jones said.
There’s an old saying that a gaffe is when someone accidentally tells the truth. This sounds like that. Queen’s Park didn’t want to turn the wheel until it was really, really sure the car was going to hit the wall. So it stayed the course until it got concrete confirmation.
Outside of Atlantic Canada, this country’s pandemic performance, measured by economic and human cost, has been various shades of mediocre. Was the United States worse? Sure. But until recently, much of the U.S. was either ignoring or actively resisting basic public-health measures, from the White House on down, and doing everything possible to feed the virus.
What colour medal do you get at the Olympics for being somewhat ahead of the last-place finishers? Fool’s gold?
And yet for all that, there’s reason for optimism. Spring is coming late, but it’s coming. To the extent that vaccines arrive, the virus is going to be suppressed.
It’s been a miserable 13 months, made more miserable by a lot of deadly and expensive government mediocrity. But it’s almost over. The stock market may be overconfident and the housing market may be overconfident, but they’re not wrong to have confidence in the future. Despite our worst efforts, it’s almost here.
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