The news out of the United States is grim.
The country has the most cases of COVID-19 in the world, and the most deaths. As the virus spreads far beyond the epicentre of New York City – there are now rampant infections in places like Dakota County, Neb., and Trousdale County, Tenn. – a bleak headline this week was frank about the likely future: “An unrelenting crush of cases and deaths.”
While there is no end to the peril, dozens of U.S. states are planning to reopen this month, undaunted by a steep trajectory of newly sickened people.
This is a threat to Canada. Even as our country’s flattening of the curve allows us to begin to slowly move to the next stage of recovery, the pandemic’s growth in the U.S. could undermine our plans for containing the virus.
The consensus among models suggests that the death toll in the U.S. could be more than 100,000 by the start of June. This week, the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation more than doubled its estimate of deaths through the beginning of August, to 135,000.
The reason? “Rising mobility in most U.S. states as well as the easing of social distancing measures expected in 31 states by May 11.”
It may get worse. A leaked Centres for Disease Control report suggested new cases could top 200,000 a day by June – up from about 25,000 in recent days. Deaths by June could reach more than 3,000 each day, up from the current level of about 1,800.
The determination to reopen many states quickly, before the virus has been brought under control, is likely to kill tens of thousands of Americans, and sicken far more.
If the number of American infections and deaths climbs instead of falls, it will not be a blow to just the United States. The reverberations will shake Canada. Our progress is at risk if the U.S. is moving in the opposite direction.
Throughout the pandemic, Canada has fared better than our neighbour. There have been missteps here, but we’ve had nothing like the chaos sown by the White House.
Our success, however, is not absolute. While Canada looks good compared with the U.S., other countries rank well ahead of us. And the full arc of the pandemic is still unknown. Canada is flattening the curve now, but experts warn of potential waves ahead, including a worst-case scenario of a large outbreak in the fall.
And now there is the U.S. factor. The old saying – when America sneezes, Canada catches a cold – is truer than ever.
The virus rampaging south of the border is terrible for Canada. Upwards of a quarter of our economy is tallied in exports to the U.S.; in March, when the border was partly closed mid-month, trade fell 5 per cent.
If Americans don’t drive or fly because it’s unsafe, that’s bad news for Canadian oil. If a General Motors factory in Michigan is shuttered, that’s bad news for auto parts makers in Ontario. If the border can’t be reopened to non-essential travel, tourism across Canada will suffer.
Even essential travel, in the form of trucking, poses a risk if drivers arrive in Canada from states where the virus is on the upswing, and bring the disease with them.
There is no obvious solution, other than continued measures to contain the virus outside our border, and increased testing and contact tracing in Canada.
Other closely connected neighbours, like Australia and New Zealand, have talked of opening up to each other – of forming a bubble for safe trade and tourism. But those two countries have done extremely well against the virus. Given the situation in the U.S., the ban on non-essential border crossings, which is supposed to lift on May 21, must extend until at least the end of summer.
In early April, when the Trump administration threatened to cut off essential medical supplies, this page argued in favour of goodwill, rather than retaliation. We pointed to the Peace Arch, at the western end of the world’s longest undefended border, on which is written: “May these gates never be closed.”
Reopening those gates is critical to Canada’s economy, but for now, opening them to anything other than trade is not an option.
America, you are our closest neighbour and best friend. We’re kin. But right now you’re sick, and highly infectious. Get better soon; until then, please stay home.