Canada didn’t need to lose 22,000 to COVID. Here’s what could have saved them

By | March 10, 2021

This month marks a full year since Canada saw its first major lockdowns as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s what we should have done differently

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This month marks a full year since Canada saw its first major lockdowns as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was by St. Patrick’s Day of 2020 that bars and restaurants across Canada were ordered closed, mass-gatherings banned and the first moves made towards closing our border with the United States.

The last 12 months have not been our finest hour. More than 22,000 dead as of March 10. Hundreds of billions of dollars in debt and economic damage. And we’re not doing all that well on vaccines either. On most metrics, Canada has been a pretty good case study on what not to do in the face of COVID-19. But given the benefit of hindsight, we now know what we would have needed to do. So, if you could travel back in time one year, please tell Canada to watch the latest Everything Should Be Better video below or read the accompanying transcript on what Canada should have done.

Early lockdowns and hard border closures


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Taiwan started screening flights from China within hours of the first reports of a pneumonia-like illness in Wuhan. South Korea followed suit three days later. New Zealand and Australia had both slapped restrictions on travellers from China by early February. None of these countries were spared from seeing community spread of COVID-19, but what these early closures did was to dramatically limit how hard they were hit.

Canada only got around to closing its border to non-essential travel on March 20. And even then, it was never a particularly hard border closure.

In the worst days of the first wave, you had direct flights coming in daily from New York City, Italy and some of the harder hit areas of China. The passengers aboard these flights – if they were met at all by a quarantine officer – were simply asked to go home and self-isolate for 14 days.

The result? Canada got seeded with a whole lot of coronavirus in early 2020, so by the time we first noticed we had it, we had a lot of it.

  1. A nurse guides people being tested for COVID-19 outside a hospital in Toronto December 10, 2020.

    Canada ranks worse than most developed countries in COVID-19 ‘misery index,’ study says

  2. Health Minister Patty Hajdu, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam on March 11, 2020. After 12 months of mask mandates and lockdowns, it’s easy for Canadians to forget just how unwilling their leaders had been to put this country on a pandemic footing.

    The complacent country: How Canadian public health allowed itself to be steamrolled by COVID-19

Fortify care homes against outside infection

By March 2020 we knew this was a disease that largely targeted the elderly. You had early data from China and from the Diamond Princess cruise ship to show that, for people like me, COVID-19 was basically a bad flu. But for people over 80, you had a one in six chance of dying. Russian Roulette odds, essentially.


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So the obvious thing to do is to take special care of your old folks’ homes. Long-term care homes are vectors for disease in normal circumstances, so obviously they’re going to be charnel houses for a disease that specifically kills old people.

Canada didn’t do this until well into the pandemic, and that’s largely why we got the highest rate of nursing home deaths from COVID-19 on the entire planet. It wasn’t until April that we got any federal guidance on how to limit spread in nursing homes, and by then the situation was so bad we were needing to call in the military.

The only outlier was B.C. Under medical health officer Bonnie Henry, the province was the first to mandate critical measures such as banning staff from working in multiple facilities. It’s why, despite B.C. being one of the early epicentres for community spread of this disease, it had a fraction of the care home deaths as compared to Ontario or Quebec.

Lavish money on vaccine development

Canada has had no problem spending money on COVID-19. Since the onset of the pandemic, the federal government alone has spent more than a quarter trillion dollars in COVID response. That would make COVID-19 the most cash-intensive event we have ever experienced.

But there was one thing we weren’t directing those billions towards: vaccine development. We funded a whole bunch of programs to test or treat COVID-19, but throughout this whole pandemic there was no domestic Canadian effort to develop a vaccine.

One of the key reasons we’re so behind on vaccine development is because, unlike the U.K. or the United States, we don’t have a made-in-Canada shot. Maybe Canadian pharma wouldn’t have been able to develop a vaccine in time (even though, ahem, Canadians developed the Ebola vaccine), but when we’re talking about the most economically destructive thing in a generation, you sort of want to cover all your bases.

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