“We recognize the understandable sentiment of Canadians… there is a huge desire to return to some semblance of pre-COVID normalcy, but we’ve also said from the beginning that it has to be based on public health advice,” Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc told reporters Tuesday.
Across the pond, there are signs that a return to normal life is on the horizon.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Monday his plan to move the country “cautiously but irreversibly” out of lockdown. The change will begin slowly, on March 8, but will loosen further every three weeks or so.
The final stage of the plan, where all restrictions are removed entirely, is pencilled in for June 21. At that point, social contact limits would be removed and businesses like nightclubs can reopen after being shuttered for more than 15 months.
LeBlanc said federal officials “took note” of Johnson’s plan, but won’t necessarily let that influence Canada’s future decisions. Reopenings are “in the hands of provincial authorities,” he said.
“Canada is a federation where provincial and territorial authorities have jurisdiction on a great number of these public health measures we have now,” said LeBlanc.
“We obviously collaborate,” he continued, but the “magic answer” lies in 13 different sub-national governments.
LeBlanc said the federal government is happy to support provinces and territories on their individual reopening plans, should they need it, but that its focus will be procuring and distributing vaccines.
Vaccines will play a “critical role in easing public health measures,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s top doctor.
“The key is to get the vaccine measures high so that we reduce the chances of those massive upswings of resurgence in order to keep society going,” she said.
“That’s absolutely the goal, but you can’t put an absolute date on one of these things.”
Though Canada has begun to receive more and more COVID-19 vaccines, the campaign pales in comparison to the U.K.’s.
More than 17.2 million people, almost a third of the country’s adults, have been given at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine since inoculations began on Dec. 8, 2020.
The British government aims to give every adult in the country a first dose by July 31 — a month earlier than its previous target.
Canada’s campaign has been sluggish by comparison. More than 455,000 Canadians have received two doses of a vaccine — about 0.81 per cent of the population, according to federal data.
Supply issues and delivery delays have hampered the effort in recent months. But thanks to an accelerated import schedule and additional orders, hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses from both Moderna and Pfizer are set to funnel into the country over the next few weeks.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has maintained that six million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s and Moderna’s vaccines will arrive by end of March. Millions more are projected to arrive each quarter, with enough supply to vaccinate all Canadians by September.
Tam said the ultimate goal is to reduce the need for restriction measures, but vaccination isn’t the only way to achieve that.
There are key numbers to take into consideration — including intensive care admissions, hospitalizations and deaths — but also public health capacities.
Then there’s the public or community health side of things. If public health departments can’t effectively test, trace and sequence for new variants, it’s unlikely things can loosen safely, Tam said.
“With variants at play, there’s less room for any kind of errors,” she said. “No one can afford to not do everything they can.
Right now, it’s important Canadians focus on adhering to current measures as diligently as possible, she continued.
“Remain vigilant because this virus… I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of what it might deal us, in terms of surprise,” she said.
“We need to be prepared for the realistic worst-case scenarios.”
— with files from The Canadian Press and Reuters