Justin Trudeau – Doug Ford, Justin Trudeau take decisive action at airports — after 11 months
So, vacation’s over. That isn’t fair, of course: it’s not like Canada’s governments have been taking actual vacations, other than the occasional individual jaunt to St. Barts. So many public servants have been working very hard for a very long time, in one crisis of a lifetime. It’s appreciated.
But on Friday, plenty happened: the federal government found religion on border restrictions, and the province announced it would also do more work at the border, and yes, this all felt very much like theatrically shutting a barn door, just as the horses gallop over the far horizon.
“The time for decisive action is now,” said Premier Doug Ford, at the end of January 2021, some 11 months into the global pandemic.
It’s not a useless exercise. Friday, the feds announced Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing and Air Transat would cease all Caribbean and Mexico service beginning on Sunday, with stray travellers brought home like a bunch of Rod Phillipses.
Also, now you have to get tested when you land at one of the four airports cleared to take passengers, and then you stay in a hotel for three nights if you test negative, and then you get tested again; a positive test means a stay at a federally funded isolation facility. The province, meanwhile, announced rapid testing at the airport, among some other changes.
And the primary reaction was, wait, they weren’t doing this already? And then you remember that hospital leaders, the then-finance minister of Ontario — who was said to have been, sadly, a reasonable pandemic voice in a cabinet where that isn’t always the case — and what seemed like the entire Alberta government flew off to tropical destinations. Right. Ford was happy, since the federal government had finally, as infectious diseases specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch puts it, gone from suggestion to an order.
“They’re finally enforcing what they’ve been recommending,” said Bogoch.
It wasn’t as if this was the biggest problem. A tiny, tiny fraction of Ontario’s cases are linked to travel. The biggest problems in this province have been that meaningful action was delayed at so many junctures, or a dangerous and then insufficient framework was enacted, without paid sick leave.
And as a result, the curve climbed right to the edge of hospitals going to hell. Ontario finally implemented a sort-of province-wide lockdown Dec. 26, and later a stay-at-home order, so everyone could get their Christmas shopping in. The UK. variant, or B.1.1.7, was first identified in Ontario on Dec. 27. Ford started complaining about border controls just before Christmas. The variant was likely in Ontario by then.
But being serious helps. And the federal government, for all its talk of recommendations, a negative test before flying home, and mandatory 14-day quarantines, definitely could have done this sooner.
“In 2021, you can’t hermetically seal your country. People find a way, and viruses find a way,” says Bogoch, infectious diseases specialist at the University of Toronto and Toronto General Hospital. “But this will have some incremental benefit.”
And as Bogoch notes, B.1.1.7 is already here. The COVID variants are daunting: community transmission has already been identified, and the science table in Ontario has shown modelling that indicates the more transmissible mutation could be the dominant strain in this province by March.
So this was all stuff a truly serious country could have done last year. Outside of the Atlantic region and the North, if a politician who is in charge of major policy says one case is too many, feel free to pelt them with pies.
The fundamental issue has been this: The feds were too slow at times, but have shovelled galaxies of money out the door, which was the right thing to do, while the provinces had to be forced into a formal agreement in order to spend the money on actually fighting the pandemic. We have a federal government that has significantly supported its citizens, while being too slow in other areas, and we have a lot of lousy premiers. It’s a bummer.
So now that the pandemic reached or passed the stage of serious lockdowns in so many provinces — which, to be clear, is a failure if you wait until the precipice to actually swallow the tougher medicine — blame had to be cast, and the arguments over the border resulted in action that shouldn’t have been so belated. So that’s done.
But we still have a race between variants and vaccines. The vaccine roller coaster was always going to have ups and downs — that is one reason the federal government hadn’t made too many specific promises other than full vaccination by September of this year, and Friday the prime minister reiterated that.
So we will be shorted Moderna in the next deliveries, but the anticipation is some extra Pfizer. What an early editor told me about roller-coaster metaphors comes to mind: at the end of the ride, you’re still in the same place; you’re just at the end. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau keeps assuring people we will all have vaccinations by September, and that hasn’t changed.
Which means we still need to push down the numbers, no matter what, which would mean Ontario finally adding paid sick leave — a Peel Public Health study showed that between August 2020 and January 2021, one in four workers went to work with potential COVID symptoms — and better safety in schools, and holding restrictions. Alberta can announce it is reopening gyms and restaurants, but Ontario should hold fast.
It was a little funny Friday: after praising the feds for finally enforcing previous recommendations, Ford recommended people from Manitoba and Quebec stay in Manitoba and Quebec. And Justin Trudeau announced a billion dollars to aid in safe school reopening, a month into the new year.
The Atlantic provinces and the North generally excepted, Canada is still lumbering after a virus that moves faster than we do. Look, just keep driving the numbers down, hold the line, and we’ll get there. We can still get truly serious about this, if we try.