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Tristin Hopper: Canada's COVID-19 lockdowns have lost all touch with reality

COVID-19 is now killing fewer Canadians per day than the daily average from pneumonia and the flu

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When University of Toronto professor Richard Florida and his wife, Rana Florida, drove up to the Michigan-Ontario border last week, they had months of peer-reviewed epidemiological science on their side to show that they posed virtually no COVID risk to the people of Canada.

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With both having received two shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, they’re effectively removed from the ranks of people who contract or transmit COVID-19. Of the 139 million Americans who have become fully vaccinated since December, a mere 3,459 (0.000024 per cent) have suffered a serious COVID-19 infection in spite of vaccination.

The couple were leaving a state of 10 million people that was now counting record-low case rates of only 300 infections per day. Comprehensive infection data from Israel, meanwhile, has shown that people like the Floridas are now 94 per cent less likely to transmit the virus to others. And on top of everything, they both showed up at the border with negative COVID-19 test results.

The Government of Canada did not care. The couple was forced into mandatory 14-day home quarantine and supervised by “10 or 20” phone calls per day from quarantine officers — as well as regular in-person visits.

It seems like you would want to deploy those resources better than just sort of being a pest

“It seems like you would want to deploy those resources better than just sort of being a pest,” Florida told the National Post.

Florida is but one of thousands of people now caught in a latticework of Canadian COVID-19 restrictions that have ceased to have any relationship to reality. As COVID-19 goes into full retreat across the country, Canadian governments are stubbornly adhering to restrictions that are not only pointless, but incur a daily tithe of debt, closed businesses and lockdown-related fatalities. At a time when Canada should be casting off the shackles of one of its most damaging single events,  entrenched interests seem bent on seeing it continue.

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On Thursday, only 12 people in Canada died from COVID-19. For context, in a typical year 19 Canadians can be expected to die every day from flu or pneumonia. In that same average day, 17 will die of Alzheimers, 38 will be killed in accidents and 11 will die by suicide.

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In much of the country, the risks from COVID-19 have now been definitively outstripped by Canada’s other public health emergency: the opioid crisis. Two Albertans died of COVID-19 on Thursday. By contrast, in just the first two months of 2021 Alberta saw an average of four fatal overdoses per day.

Canada now has one of the lowest rates of per-capita COVID-19 fatalities in the entire G20. At the end of this week, the average citizen of the European Union is now 61 per cent more likely to die of COVID-19 than the average Canadian, even though the case rates in both places are roughly the same. The rise of the Delta variant has spurred worry, but early data out of the U.K. suggest the vaccines are as effective at preventing hospitalization from this variant as any other.

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On every front, Canada’s pandemic is speeding towards its end: A fast-tracked and innovative national vaccine strategy has bought Canadians deliverance from COVID-19 faster than almost anyone thought possible.

The country now has the world’s second-highest rate of first-dose vaccine coverage, and 4.8 million people are now fully vaccinated — including half of all Canadians over the age of 80.

The country’s reward for this epidemiological miracle? A continued lockdown on commerce and civic life that, in many ways, is indistinguishable from the summer of 2020, when a vaccine still seemed a distant pipe dream and more than two thirds of the country’s 26,000 COVID fatalities had yet to die.

For more than a year, schools have been identified around the world as negligible vectors for COVID-19 transmission, in large part because the virus has such a hard time sticking to children. Regardless, Ontario schools have remained under indefinite closure since April, despite even a May 29 statement from Ontario’s own COVID-19 Science Advisory Table saying that the province “can re-open schools safely.”

The Government of Ontario had promised that as soon as 70 per cent of adults reached first-dose vaccination, the province would legalize hair salons, outdoor amusements and tables of up to six people at outdoor restaurants — all of which have been allowed for months in many other regions of North America. Even with Ontario now at 75 per cent vaccination coverage, a government-mandated interval of three weeks means that hair salons will continue to remain shuttered until July.

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“Every single … hour lockdowns continue, more small business owners make the decision to close their doors forever,” Dan Kelly, CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, wrote in a Thursday Tweet.

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But the most overzealous COVID strictures can be found at the Canadian border. The federal government has put in plans to lift its mandatory quarantine for fully vaccinated travellers — but not until July. And even then, incoming travellers must continue to provide two negative COVID-19 tests regardless of vaccination status — a requirement well beyond the pale of almost any other Western nation.

As a renowned urban theorist, Florida can usually be heard talking up his adoptive Toronto home as a haven for what he calls the “creative class” — the scientists, engineers, tech investors and others who help invigorate urban economies.

Now, as Florida’s usual world of conferences, summits and book tours start up again, he faces fines and even jail time if he so much as steps outside for a walk before his quarantine ends on Tuesday. He suspects he’s not the only one thinking hard about whether it’s still possible for him to do his job from Canadian soil.

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“This is literally like hanging out a sign and saying ‘global talent, we’re kind of on the fence about you,’” he told the National Post.

Canada’s hesitance on reopening also risks leaving whole sectors of the economy out of the global rebound, including the country’s $100 billion-per-year tourism industry. As early as February, Poland lifted its quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated tourists. France opened its borders to vaccinated visitors earlier this month. As of this writing, more than 30 countries are jumpstarting their tourism industries with special provisions for vaccinated travellers — particularly those from the heavily vaccinated U.S.

Canada, by contrast, just extended its non-essential travel ban with the U.S. until at least July 21, ostensibly to keep “Canadians safe,” according to a statement by Minister of Public Safety Bill Blair. The borders similarly remain closed to everyone else looking to take a Canadian vacation, regardless of their vaccination status. “You can’t enter Canada for discretionary travel,” reads a blunt declaration on the Government of Canada’s official information page for foreign visitors.

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Not only is this shutting out yet another summer for Canada’s bankruptcy-plagued tourism sector, but it risks permanently altering long-established travel patterns. Canada’s refusal to reopen its ports to even fully vaccinated cruise vessels, for instance, has spurred a legislative push in the U.S. to encourage cruise operators to bypass Canadian ports permanently.

“Canada cannot afford to be left behind as other countries around the world begin to reopen,” Susie Grynol, president of the Hotel Association of Canada, said in a statement this week.

But while overzealous Canadian lockdowns may be progressively losing touch with scientific evidence, it would be wrong to say that they’re necessarily against public opinion.

A June 9 poll by Maru Public Opinion found that 69 per cent of Ontarians approved of school closures. And despite living within North America’s most locked-down jurisdiction, half approved of the performance of Premier Doug Ford. An Angus Reid Institute poll released the same day wasn’t nearly as warm towards Ford, but it nevertheless found that Ontarians approved of his performance on COVID more than any other single file, including the economy, healthcare and education.

As the U.S. crawls out of its pandemic, American communities have reached out to Canadians with a wave of good neighbourliness. Communities in Alaska, Montana and Washington State have even offered extra vaccine doses to Canadian towns across the border to speed up reopening.

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Canadians, in contrast, have seemed unusually willing to seal off outsiders for as long as possible. Last month, Ontario premier Doug Ford said his province could not afford to watch the fourth wave of COVID-19 “walk across our border.” Last July in B.C., following a rash of vandalism on cars bearing U.S. licence plates, Premier John Horgan told Americans that if they didn’t like it they should ride the bus. Only three weeks ago, an Angus Reid Institute poll found that more than half of Canadians continued to favour a total ban on international arrivals.

Said Florida, himself American-born with two dual-citizen children, COVID-19 “exposed something I had never seen and would rather not see.”

• Email: thopper@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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