It’s fitting that a government so averse to border security would maintain its shoulder shrug response when the novel coronavirus is knocking at Canada’s door.
“This is a virus that knows no borders and that is growing,” said federal health minister Patty Hajdu when asked if the government would be implementing travel restrictions to protect Canadians against COVID-19.
The virus may not know borders, but those carrying it do. The problem seems to be that Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government doesn’t know – or simply doesn’t care about – borders.
The contrast between Trudeau’s position and that of the United States couldn’t be starker. President Donald Trump announced Wednesday night that all travel from Europe by non-US residents would be suspended for 30 days, effective Friday.
Trump’s response was hardly an outlier, either. India closed its border to all international tourists and implemented mandatory quarantines for its own citizens returning from seven countries. Israel instituted a mandatory two-week quarantine for visitors and citizens.
Dozens of countries put specific restrictions on entries from China, with several putting additional barriers for those coming from South Korea, Iran and Italy.
Wealthy, developed nations like Sweden, Singapore and Australia understood that nations geographically isolated from the coronavirus epicenters could mitigate or altogether avoid outbreaks through travel restrictions. Canadians, however, got little more than platitudes from the government.
Even the $1 billion that Trudeau committed to fighting COVID-19 was rife with virtue signalling. Much of it is earmarked for worthwhile efforts, but $2.63 million is going to combatting racism, discrimination and misinformation. $50 million is going to other countries, suggesting Trudeau does, at least on some level, understand the risk of foreign importation of the virus.
While there has been local transmission in Canada, the majority of the country’s COVID-19 caseload has been from people who picked it up abroad and brought it to Canada – predominantly from Iran in the recent cases.
Travel and immigration restrictions won’t entirely insulate a country, but they can certainly keep the number of cases smaller and buy time to better deal with what the World Health Organization has now called a pandemic.
Even the Canadian government concedes that anywhere from 30 to 70 per cent of the country will be infected with coronavirus. On the high end, that’s over 26 million Canadians. With a mortality rate currently sitting at 3.4 per cent, the government’s projections combined with what we know about the virus at this point suggest as many as 884,000 Canadian deaths. While that is likely a highly inflated number, it is nonetheless the government’s math and doesn’t seem to be matched by a prorporional level of action.
The risk of more than two per cent of the population getting wiped out would, you’d assume, garner a bit more than a “wait and see” approach, which seems imprudent when this is one of the rare situations in which we have the benefit of foresight.
Rather than taking some of the steps other countries have employed, like travel restrictions or shutting down mass gatherings, the Canadian government says it’s not time to go there yet.
While I don’t think Canadians need to be prepping for doomsday, a government response greater than waiting for it to get worse – when the government is assured it will – is certainly warranted.
These are the sorts of situations that shouldn’t be partisan, but end up devolving into that when the Conservatives, in the midst of a leadership race, see no real response from the Trudeau government.
Coronavirus has pushed rail blockades into ‘yesterday’s news,’ but the government’s response to the new crisis is as lacklustre as the one before.
As someone who tries to look for market solutions before encouraging the heavy hand of government, it’s worth noting that many companies have taken leadership of their own in recent weeks, including airlines.
Nevertheless, epidemics and pandemics are among the few areas that rather easily qualify as being under the federal government’s jurisdiction.
The government should have been the first to axe flights between Canada and China, but Air Canada did so instead, on its own.
In the US, where testing has been rationed and difficult to access, Amazon and the Bill Gates Foundation are teaming up to get kits delivered directly to homes, starting in Seattle.
Even if the coronavirus crisis is adequately managed from here on out, Canada’s worst days lie ahead – not behind. This isn’t hyperbole, and it isn’t meant to stoke panic. If anything, it’s to encourage preparedness. It would be nice if the government took that a bit more seriously.
Photo Credit: CBC News
Andrew Lawton is a fellow at the True North Initiative and a Loonie Politics columnist.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.