From coast to coast, Canada’s strategy for beating COVID-19 is being wound down, before the virus has been taken down. Combined with the rise of the ultra-infectious Delta variant, this is setting the stage for a fourth pandemic wave.
It’s clear what’s needed to prevent that. Yet Canadian governments, perhaps convinced that denial is the route to re-election, are to varying degrees declining to do what has to be done, or to say what needs to be said.
Canada is once again failing to prepare, and preparing to fail. Allow a recent social-media post from Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to illustrate.
On July 19, Mr. Kenney shared a video from the Calgary Stampede. He tweeted that this was the first major event “after the pandemic.”
We have the tools to get us there. But as an explosion of cases and hospitalizations in the United Kingdom, the United States and Europe show, acting as if the challenges of the past 16 months are behind us – when we have not yet taken all of the actions necessary to put them there – is just greenlighting a COVID sequel.
We don’t mean to single out Mr. Kenney. He’s saying and doing – and failing to do – what many governments across the spectrum are, to varying degrees, saying, doing and not doing.
Alberta and Saskatchewan, run by conservatives, have essentially lifted all public-health measures, notably mask mandates. They’re not requiring vaccination for health care jobs or university attendance, and they don’t want to talk about vaccine certificates. But is the story any different in New Democratic British Columbia? No.
And while vaccination rates are still too low, political leaders are congratulating constituents – and themselves – for how high they are.
Canada still has time to set this right. Thanks to strong public-health measures in the spring, this country has given itself a summer lull, and time to do what needs to be done. But summer is already half over.
Here’s what needed, now.
Raise the vaccination rate: Canada’s 2.1 million college and university students are eager to get back into the classroom. Yet depending on the province, 30 per cent to 40 per cent of people in their 20s have received zero shots. If every third student in every lecture hall is unvaccinated, get ready for a superspreader fall.
Ditto when it comes to crowded workplaces. Depending on the province, between a third and a fifth of Canadians in their 30s and 40s are unvaccinated.
Across all ages, one out of five eligible Canadians has received zero doses. That’s more than six million unvaccinated people. The figures have barely budged in weeks. Canada should be aiming for a vaccination rate of at least 90 per cent.
Mandatory vaccination in certain settings: Provinces should have no qualms about telling workers in health, senior care, child care and education that their jobs require jabs – to protect them and others.
Provinces should also follow the lead of Ontario’s Seneca College and tell students, faculty and staff in higher ed. that on-campus attendance is only for the vaccinated.
In Ontario, vaccination against a host of diseases has long been mandatory for school-age children. All provinces should do likewise with COVID-19, for those 12 and over.
Vaccination certificates: Want to buy a beer? You’ll have to prove that you’re old enough. Waiters, bartenders, the cashier at the liquor store – they can all ask to see some I.D.
As such, we’re not sure how asking someone to verify their vaccination status before entering large, indoor settings involving hundreds of people sharing the same air for hours – an NHL arena, a bar, a movie theatre – is some unbearable infringement on privacy.
Keep the masks: As much as possible, Canada needs its economy fully reopened, with people back at work and kids back in school. The way to make that happen, and keep it that way, is through a combination of mass vaccination and targeted public-health measures. The least costly, least inconveniencing, yet highly effective public-health measure is masking indoors.
Is it really a problem to wear a mask for 20 minutes at the grocery store? No, it isn’t. Provinces that have ended mask mandates should look at reinstating them, or at least remind people that, if and when cases rise, masks will be making a comeback.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.