Every year the Economist Intelligence Unit, a sister company to the British magazine The Economist, publishes an index of the most livable cities in the world. And almost every year, Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary make the Top 10.
They did it again on the 2022 list released in June, with Calgary leading the way in third place (in a tie with Zurich), followed by Vancouver in the fifth spot and Toronto at No. 8.
Those same three Canadian cities also made the Top 10 five straight years, from 2015 through 2019. And Vancouver held the top spot for a decade before that, from 2002 through 2011.
There was no 2020 list, because of the pandemic. Then the 2021 list came out, and all three Canadian cities were gone from the Top 10. And now they’re back again.
So what happened? Lockdowns and COVID-19, that’s what.
The 2021 list was dominated at the top by cities in New Zealand and Australia, where extreme border restrictions against the novel coronavirus (and virtually all foreign travel) allowed people living in Auckland (No. 1) and Wellington (No. 4) in New Zealand, and in Adelaide (No. 3), Perth (No. 6), Melbourne (No. 8) and Brisbane (No. 10) in Australia, to go about their lives, most of the time, almost as if there were no pandemic.
The EIU index took into account closings in education, sporting activities, theatre, concerts, bars and restaurants caused by the pandemic. It also tracked access to health care. And in early 2021, when vaccines were still scarce, Australia and New Zealand – wide open internally, drum tight at their borders – were rare islands of sort-of normalcy, and the envy of the developed world.
Meanwhile, Canadians spent a lot of 2021 living with closed services, shuttered businesses and heavy travel restrictions. The shutdown of schools, the sports and entertainment industries, and bars and restaurants was enough to make a measurable difference in our cities’ rankings.
But while Canada was locking down in 2021, it was also doing a good job, relative to many countries – including Australia and New Zealand – of getting people vaccinated.
And so with the arrival of the ultracontagious Omicron strain in late 2021, making border measures somewhat moot, cities Down Under “no longer have a COVID advantage over well-vaccinated European and Canadian cities” in 2022, the EIU index says.
On the 2022 list, there is just one Australian city in the Top 10, and none from New Zealand. The Top 10 is now similar to what it looked like in the years before 2020.
Any such attempt at ranking the “best” cities should be taken with a grain of salt, of course. The EIU index is not a perfect measure by any means. (No Montreal in the Top 10? Seriously?) Its neutral stand on livability, under which a wide-open, party town with a high infection rate, a high death count and a low vaccination rate would be more “livable” than one that temporarily closed indoor settings during a one-in-a-century pandemic, is an odd use of a word whose root is an antonym of die.
But as a relative measure of life before and after 2020-2021, it is also a reminder of the effectiveness of Canada’s chosen measures against the COVID-19 pandemic.
This country did not have the advantage of being an island, isolated by oceans and with the ability to shut its borders airtight. It had to rely on local closings, and public-health measures such as masking, and then on vaccines, to reduce the pandemic’s toll. It was, in its broad strokes, the right bet.
Since the start of the pandemic, Canada’s death rate is three times lower than the United States and Poland, more than two times lower than Italy, Belgium, Britain, Mexico, Spain and France, and lower than Sweden, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Israel and Denmark.
Canada’s death rate is higher than Australia’s and New Zealand’s, of course. But in spite of their temporary geographic advantage, we appear to have normalized faster.
This country was (and still is) far from perfect in the fight against COVID-19.
No country was, or could even hope to have been. Criticisms are warranted, and needed. But our outcome so far is noteworthy, and very Canadian: Not too bad, relatively speaking, under the circumstances. That should never be lost in the necessary debates about the choices we, and our governments, made.
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