After more than a year of strict lockdowns, including the longest one in North America, and a deadly third pandemic wave, Canadians are finally getting some good news: we’re likely going to have a “normal” summer.
In April, Canada hit a new pandemic peak, recording nearly 10,000 new COVID-19 cases in a single day (on April 15). Hospitals were overwhelmed, Canada surpassed the U.S. in new daily cases per million, and three variants of concern were making their way through the country. Vaccine rollouts were only just ramping up.
To manage, sweeping restrictions were introduced all over, including in Alberta, which at the time was the COVID-19 hotspot for all of North America. Ontario has since logged one of the longest lockdowns in the world—Toronto restaurants have been closed to diners for more than 360 days since the pandemic began, compared to Paris and London, both of which kept restaurants shut for about 260 days, according to BBC. Quebec, which largely staved off a third wave, maintained a curfew.
Over the past few weeks, though, Canada’s vaccine campaign has sped up significantly, even overtaking U.S vaccination rates. More than half of Canadians have been vaccinated so far, and it’s expected that the country will soon become the world leader in vaccinations. While Canada’s vaccine strategy, which aims to administer as many first doses of a two-dose vaccine as possible, was originally called a gamble, it appears to be paying off. Health Canada already confirmed that vaccinations have resulted in “low rates” of COVID-19, and second doses will ramp up in June, officials say.
In short, there’s hope we’ll be able to have a summer. Provinces across the country have introduced plans that set out the conditions we need to hit before we can eat out, get our hair cut, or see a movie in a theatre—providing our health care systems remain stable and more people get vaccinated (many provinces aim for 60-70 percent of the population to have at least received one jab before opening up).
Alberta’s plan is the most ambitious.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who has faced criticism several times for failing to act fast when COVID-19 cases skyrocketed, suggested that the province could fully reopen by July, a target that experts say is “reckless.” Calgary-based political strategist Zain Velji told Global News that Kenney is likely trying to score political points by being the first to lift all public health restrictions.
“If you look at the timing of stage three, it’s not a coincidence. What’s the biggest thing that happens in early July?” Velji said. “The Calgary Stampede, and when you look at the Calgary Stampede and the triggering of summer season, you can really see this as something Kenney may have reverse-engineered.”
Ontario and Quebec released their own plans as well, with shopping, movie theatres, haircuts, and barbecues all on the horizon, but Ontario’s plan is notably slower paced than the rest. Global News reported that that’s likely because Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s support has plummeted this year, after several pandemic-related blunders. Ford failed to deliver vaccines to COVID-19 hotspots, dragged his heels when experts repeatedly asked his government to introduce paid sick days for essential workers, and tried to give police the right to card people when enforcing COVID-19 restrictions. It makes sense, then, Velji told Global, that Ford is reopening the province cautiously.
In British Columbia, the envy of most Canadians, people can already eat indoors and play outdoor sports. If, by June 15, hospitals are not overwhelmed and at least 65 percent of people have had at least one vaccine dose, then high intensity fitness classes and some indoor gatherings will be allowed again.
Canada isn’t entirely out of the third wave, though, as Manitoba is still suffering from concerning COVID-19 rates and overwhelmed hospitals, and nearly two-thirds of all cases have affected Black, Indigenous, and people of colour. One patient died while being transported to an out-of-province hospital for care.
Canadians might even get to travel to the U.S. this summer as the long-awaited border reopening looms. There is no set date yet, but Bloomberg reported that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is already working on a gradual plan to reopen the border to nonessential travel. The plan could even include vaccine passports, which would allow vaccinated people to travel back and forth without needing to quarantine upon arrival. For nearly a year, all international travellers flying into Canada have had to quarantine for 14 days.
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