What a difference a few months make. Over the summer, Canadians were riding high on the notion they had flattened the curve. In comparison, COVID-19 infections in the neighbouring United States had spiked to new highs.
Then the fall arrived, and coronavirus case numbers in Canada started to surge.
In response, the European Union removed Canadians from its list of approved travellers on Thursday. Also, U.S. President Donald Trump made a point of noting Canada’s COVID-19 “flare-ups” in a recent speech.
Now, Canada must face an uncomfortable fact: while we’re still faring better than many countries, we’ve lost our coveted image as a nation widely recognized as having flattened the curve.
The turn of events is a reminder that the stealth coronavirus can rebound at any moment, and no country can rest on its laurels in its battle with COVID-19.
“Just because we got through the first wave didn’t mean that we were prepared for what was to come,” said Ashleigh Tuite, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto.
“I think we got a little bit smug in terms of comparing ourselves to the United States.… I think maybe it adds a sense of complacency.”
EU change of heart not surprising, expert says
Back in June, Canada got a big vote of confidence when European countries began reopening their borders. The EU placed Canada on a list of just 14 countries whose citizens EU officials recommended should be welcome in the 27-nation bloc.
The U.S. didn’t make the cut.
Based on the EU’s recommendation, many member countries flung open their doors to Canadian travellers — with no restrictions.
But that may now change as the EU has officially removed Canada from its approved travel list. The EU said it based its revised list on a number of factors, including COVID-19 case counts and containment efforts.
WATCH | Trump takes note of Canada’s COVID-19 problems:
Global health specialist Steven Hoffman said the EU’s change of heart isn’t surprising because Canada has entered the second wave of the virus.
Over the past month, COVID-19 infections in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta have soared to record highs.
“Our numbers are getting worse and so it makes sense that countries are reacting,” said Hoffman, a professor of global health, law and political science at Toronto’s York University.
Health experts have offered up a myriad of reasons why Canada’s COVID-19 case numbers have climbed since the summer. First, there was the inevitable rise in cases as provinces eased lockdown restrictions in the spring and summer.
Also, some provinces struggled to keep up contact tracing and testing as COVID-19 cases began to mount.
“The testing, the tracing just wasn’t up to the job in terms of handling these larger numbers of people,” said Tuite. “As a result, the whole system got bogged down.”
But Hoffman said that Canadians shouldn’t get too distraught over the EU decision because Canada is still faring better than Europe.
Infections are surging in many European countries including France, which last week declared a state of emergency. On Wednesday, Spain became the first Western European country to surpass a million cumulative coronavirus cases.
“In Europe, we’re seeing quite the acceleration to the point where it’s quite scary,” said Hoffman. He added that Europe currently isn’t a good travel destination.
“If Canadians want to be protected from this pandemic … I would recommend they stay right where they are in Canada.”
Canada vs. U.S.
Although the U.S. still allows Canadians to fly to the country, Canada’s shifting COVID-19 status hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Trump highlighted Canada’s problems in a speech earlier this month.
“All over the world, you see big flare-ups,” he told a crowd of supporters. “Big flare-ups in Canada, very big flare-up.”
This is in sharp contrast to the summer when Canadian COVID-19 case numbers remained low while U.S. infections spiralled out of control. The jarring difference inspired many Canadians to chastise the U.S. on social media for not being able to control the virus. Some even suggested that Canada build a wall.
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But times have changed. The U.S. infection rate is still far above Canada’s rate, but some provinces are now rivalling U.S. states once considered hot spots.
According to New York Times data on Friday, Quebec’s COVID-19 infection rate over the past seven days is nearing Florida’s rate and has surpassed the rate in Arizona and California. Alberta’s rate is hovering close to that of California’s.
But Hoffman said Canada can still lay claim to the country where both Canadians and Americans would rather be — when it comes to battling the virus.
“I think every American wishes they were living in Canada right now, because our numbers and our ability to contain this outbreak is far better than what we’ve seen from the United States.”
He also suggested that Canada’s slipping COVID-19 status doesn’t constitute a crisis, but instead it’s a wake-up call to ramp up our efforts.
“This represents a warning for why we need to take this pandemic seriously,” said Hoffman. “We are maybe at this turning point for whether the second wave of this outbreak will be like the first one, or will it be a lot worse?”