The Liberals may have put Canada’s federal government into sleep mode until late September, but the SARS-CoV-2 virus isn’t sleeping. It isn’t taking a summer holiday. The pandemic, day by day and from coast to coast, is merrily setting the stage for a cracker of a fourth wave.
To beat it back, and deliver an autumn of businesses that stay open and hospital ICUs that stay empty, Canada has to raise its vaccination rate, to at least 90 per cent.
To get there, we need get-vaccinated-or-else mandates, in health, education, higher ed, the public service and private employers with congregate settings. On Thursday, the City of Toronto said that its 37,000 public servants will have to get vaccinated, with few exceptions. The Toronto Transit Commission did likewise. Good.
Also good: As the week ended, Canada’s Big Five banks all announced they would be bringing in vaccine mandates for employees. And on Thursday night, Ontario’s Premier booted one of his MPPs out of the Progressive Conservative caucus for refusing to get vaccinated, then surprised by announcing a get-vaccinated-or-get-regularly-tested rule for the province’s tens of thousands of public servants.
What else is needed? Proof-of-vaccination rules in crowded settings, such as bars, gyms and sports arenas. Quebec has already ordered this; in provinces that have declined to do so, some private businesses have started to act. Manitoba’s True North Sports and Entertainment – the company behind the Winnipeg Jets – says only vaccinated patrons will be welcome this fall. The same goes for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Raptors and Toronto FC.
That means people are going to need a simple, secure proof-of-vaccination card or app. Manitoba has one and Quebec will in a matter of days; other provinces are on a spectrum between dilly-dallying and resistant. But the provinces are co-operating with the feds to create a vaccine passport for overseas travel – and it can do just as well for domestic uses, too. So hurry up and get that ready, already.
We know the virus is airborne, so we need indoor spaces – especially schools – to get upgraded ventilation systems that pump in lots of clean air. Now.
And we need to be smart about masks. In Ontario, masks are still the rule – and an almost universally followed practice – in indoor settings such as stores. Western Canada in particular has to buy in to that approach.
Why does Canada need to do all of the above?
Let’s start in Alberta. The average daily number of new infections is up more than tenfold since mid-July, just before Alberta embarked on its trademarked “What, Me Worry?” reopening plan. The province is now seeing its highest infection levels since May. The curve is the classic hockey stick shape. The shaft, not the blade.
It’s a similar story in neighbouring Saskatchewan. In Ontario, the rate of new infections is lower, but it’s still up threefold since mid-July. In Quebec, it’s up fivefold.
And in British Columbia, the BC COVID-19 Modelling Group, a team of independent academics, said on Wednesday that the data is showing “exponential growth in all regions of the province.” The number of COVID-19 infections in B.C. has been doubling every nine days – for five weeks.
The group says that unless B.C. takes evasive action – smart public-health measures and more vaccinations – it’s on a high-speed escalator to a record-setting number of sick people and an overwhelmed health care system.
The group sees no evidence that infection rates have “decoupled” from hospitalizations, as some – notably Alberta’s top physician, Dr. Deena Hinshaw – were hoping for.
But you don’t need a mathematical model to see that. If you want to know what happens when the Delta variant meets no public-health restrictions, too few masks and too many unvaccinated people, just look at Florida.
In mid-June, Florida had fewer than 1,900 people hospitalized with COVID-19 – its lowest level since early 2020. Two months later, more than 17,000 Floridians are in hospital, far above the peaks of the first, second or third waves.
Just 73 per cent of Florida’s adults have had at least one shot, while 61 per cent have had both. Those numbers are clearly too low – but they also aren’t far below Canada’s figures.
Saskatchewan, the least-vaccinated province, has given a first shot to less than 75 per cent of residents age 12 years and older. Alberta’s figure is barely more than 76 per cent. Only Prince Edward Island has hit 90 per cent. The Canadian average is slightly more than 82 per cent. (The other below-average province? Ontario.)
Canada’s first-shot rate is creeping up at the glacial pace of 0.1 per cent a day, or less. That’s not good enough. Canada has to start moving the needle – fast.
Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.