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COMMENTARY: Canada and the U.S. are neighbours but miles apart when it comes to COVID-19

Global News viewers ask B.C. premier questions about travelling during COVID-19
Global News viewers ask B.C. premier questions about travelling during COVID-19

The COVID19 pandemic has shone a light on the core strengths of Canada’s health-care system while at the same time laying bare the serious shortcomings of the American system.

In this country, we have started to flatten the curve. Ontario and Quebec are not quite as far along as other provinces, but their spread rate of the virus has slowed considerably.

If we stick to adhering to public health protocols – keeping our physical distance, wearing a mask in many situations, not congregating in large crowds – there is every reason to think the curve will continue to flatten while the pandemic continues.

Read more: B.C. reports 25 COVID-19 cases, most since May 8

Not so on the other side of the border.

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The COVID-19 situation in the United States is almost out of control in many places. States like California, Arizona, Texas and Florida are getting steamrolled by the deadly virus that is rampaging through them.

Even neighboring Washington, which thought it had the virus almost under control mere weeks ago, has seen a resurgence in case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths.

There seem to be many reasons for the stark differences between the two countries’ experience in fighting off the virus.

Perhaps the most important difference is that Canada’s response to COVID-19 is being driven and determined by public health officials, and not by politicians.

Read more: President Donald Trump playing politics with the pandemic: experts

People like B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and federal Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam have been in charge for the most part and they are being guided by science rather than politics.

Canadian political leaders, meanwhile, have primarily been responsible for devising financial aid packages for the millions of people hit hardest by the virus and have stayed out of the health side of the response.

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Contrast that to the United States where, in some cases, elected officials (notably President Donald Trump) publicly clash with public health experts and ignore or override their advice.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the respected U.S. infectious disease expert, has almost disappeared from public view. Evidently, that is because the Trump administration does not want him offering the country expert advice.

Can you imagine if the B.C. government tried to muzzle Henry? A pitchfork-waving mob would instantly materialize in the streets.

Read more: British Columbians snapping up Dr. Bonnie Henry merchandise

Another key difference is that Canadians tend to follow rules created for the benefit of the larger community. We don’t chafe under state controls and when someone like Dr. Henry says, for example, that there will be no mass gatherings of people there generally is not (the public protests against racism are notable exceptions).

Americans, on the other hand, love to boast about their constitutionally protected personal rights and have been thumbing their noses at things like crowd limits since the pandemic began. In fact, the current surge in COVID-19 cases in the U.S. can be traced back to the Memorial Day long weekend in late May, when huge crowds gathered to celebrate.

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Finally, it cannot be a coincidence that a country with a public health-care system is doing so much better fighting COVID-19. It allows us to take a centralized approach to taking on the virus.

The U.S., on the other hand, has a private system that has led to a decentralized approach. The result is a hodge-podge of results (within states, some neighboring counties have differing “lockdown” rules; some hospitals do not even report case numbers or deaths).

Two countries side-by-side, yet we could not be further apart in this pandemic.

Keith Baldrey is the legaslative bureau chief for Global BC, based at the Legislature in Victoria, B.C.