As coronavirus COVID-19 rages next door in the US, Canada hopes to avoid disaster by keeping its border closed – ABC News

Posted: August 22, 2020 at 2:52 am


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If you've been living through the worst of the coronavirus pandemic for as long as the United States has, you might be pretty envious of the comparative calm just across the border in Canada.

Indeed, some Americans have even gone so far as to sneak into their northern neighbour, despite a border ban that's been in place since the pandemic began.

Many of them have been exploiting what has become known as the "Alaska loophole".

In March, Canada closed its borders to all foreign nationals.

But those who discovered the loophole have reportedly been telling authorities they're only passing through Canada on their way to the US state of Alaska.

Back in June for example, seven Americans were fined for illegally crossing into Canada to go on a hike.

Foreigners are also apparently arriving by sea, either on sailboats or luxury yachts.

It wasn't until the end of July that the border authority attempted to close the loophole, announcing that travellers heading to Alaska would need to take the most direct route to their destination.

"The border isn't actually fully closed, it's just closed to 'non-essential travel', which nobody has firmly defined," Colin Furness, an epidemiologist and professor at the University of Toronto, told the ABC.

"There are still something like 200,000 people crossing the border into Canada every week from the US. I wish that number was much lower, because people have to self-quarantine and our resources to enforce [and] monitor that are pretty weak."

Amid reports that this might be happening and that some Canadians were beginning to act out against American vehicles, premier of British Columbia John Horgan reminded Canadians to "be calm, be kind" at the end of July.

"With respect to those who have offshore [number] plates and are feeling harassed, I would suggest perhaps public transit," he said.

But the border ban has not just impacted those living outside Canada.

One Canadian news outlet reported that a couple who were both doctors hadn't seen each other since the COVID-19 border closure began because one of them worked in the US state of Michigan.

"My husband is missing out on this entire journey that we worked really, really, hard for," Dr Ashley Cook, who was pregnant at the time, told CBC News in May.

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Professor Furness believes the border will have to stay closed until at least March 2021, when either a vaccine or herd immunity in the US will cause cases to decline.

"A vast majority of Canadians support keeping the border closed," he said.

"There is pressure from Americans who want the border to open, however, their self-awareness about risk and mitigation of COVID-19 is a lot lower than ours."

It's no wonder why some might be trying to make their way across the border.

Canada has so far recorded more than 125,600 cases of COVID-19, compared to 5.6 million infections in the US.

According to assistant professor of social work at Canada's Dalhousie University Raluca Bejan, the public sentiment is that Canada did well in managing the coronavirus outbreak.

"Especially [given] that most comparisons are drawn with the US, since we are so close to them, geographically speaking," she told the ABC.

Even though coronavirus arrived in Canada at roughly the same time as the US, the country had a few natural advantages.

It has a much smaller population compared to its southern neighbour just 37 million people compared to America's 328 million residents.

"Population density matters too, which is why New York got hit so hard. Poverty is another major risk, and the Americans have much more of it than we do," Professor Furness said.

But he says Canada's culture, which prizes the collective over the individual, also played a crucial role in the country's success.

"There's an old joke: how do you get 50 Canadians out of a swimming pool? You say, 'Please get out of the swimming pool,'" he said.

"I don't know how to get 50 Americans out of the pool, and I'm not sure anybody could: some would get out, some would sue, and some would point a gun and say 'make me'".

While Canada also has an anti-mask movement, a recent study found that four out of five people happily abide by public health measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

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Canada also got an early glimpse into the damage an infectious disease could unleash two decades ago.

In 2003, SARS killed 44 people in Toronto the most deaths outside Asia after an infected woman travelled to Canada from Hong Kong.

That experience meant Canada was quick to react at critical moments of the coronavirus pandemic, according to experts.

As early as January, Canadian authorities started preparing testing and monitoring infrastructure and by the beginning of March, Canada had already carried out 3,000 COVID-19 tests.

Across the border, only 500 had been completed by the Centres for Disease Control.

"We were able to control the virus better than many of our allies including, particularly, our neighbour," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in June.

But experts have identified some issues with Canada's COVID-19 outbreaks.

Roughly one-fifth of Canada's cases and more than 80 per cent of its deaths have occurred in facilities for the elderly and disabled, according to government figures.

The outbreaks in homes in Ontario and Quebec were so severe that the Government had to send the Canadian military to help.

The military said it found malnourished residents in dirty nappies left to languish in their insect-infested rooms as facilities struggled to contain the outbreaks.

One of the other problems Dr Bejan has identified also lies in the conditions migrant labourers endure when they come to Canada to work on farms and in meat plants.

In June, Mexico became so concerned about the rapid spread of COVID-19 on farms in Ontario that it refused to send temporary workers there.

"The precarious living and working conditions that migrant workers are subjected to, combined with their lack of state protections, has resulted in COVID-19 outbreaks," she said.

Dr Bejan says as a strong welfare state, whose public system of healthcare provision is a symbol of national pride, Canada had an advantage when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

But she suggests after decades of government cutbacks, Canada was not as prepared as it could have been in terms of testing kit stockpiles, contact tracing and labs.

"The Windsor testing lab, [for example] was built in 1966, in the golden era of the Canadian welfare state," she said.

The lab, in the biggest province of Ontario, had the capacity to conduct tests for tuberculosis and the West Nile virus.

"Despite public outcry, the lab was demolished in 2010 and replaced with a new highway," she said.

Experts including Dr Bejan believe the facility could have had a great impact on the region, which has experienced relatively low testing rates.

"Only 2.5 per cent of the local population in Windsor-Essex was tested by May 2020."

As the northern hemisphere heads into winter, experts say a second wave of COVID-19 cases in Canada is "inevitable".

"I have no doubt about that at all. Whether it manifests as small flare-ups or something worse will depend heavily, I think, on our willingness to wear masks indoors in public," Professor Furness said.

But he believes that Canadians will rise to the challenge.

"Because Canadians are a pretty compliant bunch and because we have front-row seats to the disaster unfolding in the US to act as a horrible warning, I feel optimistic," he said.

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As coronavirus COVID-19 rages next door in the US, Canada hopes to avoid disaster by keeping its border closed - ABC News

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August 22nd, 2020 at 2:52 am

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