O Canada, this virus ain’t messing
There was a comforting reassurance to “We’re in this together” that we heard repeatedly at the onset of the plague. But such semblance of unity was quickly revealed to be a hapless aspiration. Infection rates and levels of fatalities vary enormously — from across nations to urban neighbourhoods.
At a national level, countries’ responses have produced jaw-dropping differences in infection and death rates. New Zealand quickly vanquished the beast. Sweden embraced some attempt at herd immunity that has resulted in high rates of death, especially compared with its Scandinavian neighbours, while not shielding its economy from negative impacts.
It is hard to say what Britain’s strategy has been, led by the buffoonish Boris Johnson. But one thing is clear: its death rate is stratospheric; now exceeding that of Italy and Spain, who were once thought to be the dark limit of the toll the contagion would take.
The rates of infection and death in the United States, while terrible, are by no means the worst on a per-capita basis. But the crisis has so clearly revealed Donald Trump’s incompetence and complete lack of humanity.
It remains to be seen how bad things will be in countries such as Mexico, where the virus has more recently taken hold.
Meanwhile, in Canada, there are vast differences in the number of cases and fatalities among the provinces and territories. Nowhere has it been an easy ride. But rates, on the whole, have been very low in terms of international comparisons.
Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry has been lauded, including in The New York Times, for her exceptional leadership in British Columbia in dealing the virus what soon may be a mortal blow. Other provinces and territories also have very low or even no deaths from the contagion.
It is Ontario and Quebec that bear the scourge’s burden. But, of the two, Quebec’s rates of death are far higher: almost 3.5 times that of Ontario. The former’s numbers per 100,000 exceed those of even Britain with its bumbling addressing of the crisis. Staged reopenings in these two provinces pose real dangers in terms of resurgence. The number of deaths in long-term care homes — not confined to Ontario and Quebec — has been horrific and there remains the threat of even more.
Within those two provinces there are significant differences, in infection rate, in terms of regions and parts of urban areas. The virus is mainly in large cities and most prominently in Montreal and Toronto.
In late May, it was reported that 76 per cent of Ontario’s new infections were in the Greater Toronto Area. Within Toronto, the rates of infection vary significantly in terms of neighbourhoods. Those areas in the lowest quintile of income have had infections rates more than double that of the highest.
Another set of statistics has North St James Town, a poor neighbourhood, with 698 cases per 100,000. Yet Rosedale-Moore Park, an affluent area, close to St James Town, has only 72 cases per 100,000. Reports are emerging about similar patterns of infections in Montreal neighbourhoods.
The homeless, wherever they may be, are in peril — the dangers of sleeping on the street; the risks of crowded shelters.
Outside of the GTA, there are markedly fewer cases in most areas. For example, there are small numbers in Muskoka — the playground of many from the richest areas of Toronto. In Thunder Bay, the rates of infection are approaching zero. But Peel and Windsor, larger urban centres, also remain problem areas. Migrant agricultural workers and the tight quarters they occupy, in Greater Windsor, is a disgraceful situation that was bound to lead to infections.
As elsewhere, for the individuals who are infected, the chances of them then dying are driven by numerous factors that further demonstrate that the burden of the contagion is not borne equally — age, race, gender, underlying medical conditions, access to quality healthcare, etc.
The angel of death hovers close by. It looks like we will need to be very cautious for a very long time. So, in that sense, we are all in this together. But where and how the plague strikes varies significantly depending on location — from countries to neighbourhoods.
The scourge scoffs at any facile reassurance that the virus regards us as all one and the same. It picks its targets as it wreaks its havoc.
• William Bogart is distinguished university and professor of law at the University of Windsor. He is at work on his next book, Who Do We Think We Are? Canada in a Turbulent World. He can be reached at email@example.com/ and @wbogart2
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