Premier Kenney’s jubilance on July 1 declaring, “Alberta isn’t just open for summer but I believe, we will be open for good”, was childlike in enthusiasm. His words are highly reminiscent of President George W. Bush declaring “mission accomplished” on May 1, 2003, yet the war in Iraq raged on for many years after.
Premier Kenney’s message is welcome and popular. I overheard a couple and a waitress gleefully revelling in our new found freedoms, “It’s over, it’s done, we’ve made it.”
However, looking at experiences from other countries, we might want to be somewhat more muted in our enthusiasm.
Remember when Israel and Britain were being held up as virus crushers, both leading the world in vaccinations and re-opening. Things aren’t so rosy these days.
In Britain confirmed cases and hospitalization have risen. Prime Minister Boris Johnson delayed their ‘grand opening’ on June 21 by another month and expressed ‘serious concern’ about rising inflections of the Delta variant.
As of June 30, 49.9 per cent of Brits were fully vaccinated. Alberta sits at 44.8 per cent.
Israel’s Jewish residents are 60 per cent fully vaccinated. All health restrictions had been removed. By mid-June there were 20 new cases per day. Two weeks later, there were 300 and those numbers are expected to rise to 500 next week. Many are school-aged children.
Israel has reinstated mask wearing indoors, tightened border controls and delayed the relaunch of large-scale incoming tourism to hopefully ward off another complete lock down.
The United States completely re-opened with 47.6 per cent of their population fully vaccinated and many southern states less than 30 per cent vaccinated. Their rates of infections, deaths and hospitalizations are now starting to grow as the Delta variant makes inroads.
With the exception of Israel, the United States is the most segregated society in the free world. Different racial and economic groups live, work, play and learn separately. That, and the financial ability to purchase health care, explains why many high-priced sporting events can operate in a bubble with few COVID restrictions.
While working at Syncrude, an American was transferred to the head office in Edmonton. He moved into the Riverbend area —what would have been considered one of the richest neighbourhoods at the time. He expressed his great surprise and obvious displeasure that there were rental apartments on Riverbend Road just blocks away from his pricey home. In the States a “Riverbend” area would be exclusively single-family, expensive and white.
Recently I spent an afternoon with a Canadian living in Texas. She was proud that her primarily white town wasn’t having any problems with COVID. Yet she had the arrogance and ignorance to call the Canadian government out for its handling of the pandemic. Having just researched Texas, I was armed with facts that easily dispelled her talking points. Caught in misinformation and outgunned, she then opined, “I guess, those towns where ‘dirty’ Mexicans and blacks live are having COVID troubles.”
Comparing Alberta to Texas, as Kenney often does, is a false equivalent. With the exception of the very wealthy, different economic and racial groups in Canada touch shoulders more often than not in neighbourhoods, schools, shops, parks, jobs and on mass transit.
Controlling a pandemic in Canada takes much more due diligence because we believe all lives lost are equally tragic.
Dr. Theresa Tam and Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s two top public health officials, tell a very different and cautious story than Premier Kenney’s ‘open for good’ and Dr. Hinshaw’s elimination of mask wearing and indoor crowd size limits before herd immunity is achieved.
By autumn, we’ll likely know which of Tam/Njoo or Kenney/Hinshaw best understand the COVID virus.