A tale of three countries
The U.K., like the U.S., suffered from leaders who drastically downplayed the pandemic and actively toyed with the idea of simply allowing their population to be decimated by COVID-19 in order to achieve herd immunity. Eighteen months later, the two countries are neck-and-neck when it comes to the percentage of the population that has died from COVID-19. That number is officially just below 1,900 out of every million—though, in the U.S. at least, there are good reasons to think the actual number is much higher. On the other hand, Canada had generally good leadership at the national level, though it certainly suffered its share of local and provincial jackassery.
At the start of the year, all three countries were experiencing a wave of disease. Canada was definitely seeing a much smaller impact than either of its two English-dominated allies, but it made up for this somewhat with an early spring wave. Then, starting around June 1, the three nations went in very different directions.
Even as the U.K. suffered a new delta-driven wave that took it back to levels not seen since winter, rates in the U.S. and Canada remained relatively low. But a few weeks later, delta became dominant in the U.S. and cases here also began to soar. Meanwhile things in Canada just kept getting better. On Tuesday, the U.K. was #23 among all nations, with 344 new cases per 100,000 population. The United States was #43 with 187. Canada was #132 with just 14.
So far, Canada simply hasn’t seen a delta-based surge. And cases there may be remaining low for the same reason that cases in the U.K. are dropping.
Why the U.S. is still angling up even as the U.K. turns their surge around may come down to the most basic thing: vaccination rates. Compared to either Canada or the U.K., the U.S. is running behind on vaccinations—not because vaccine isn’t available, and certainly not because the lines for vaccines are too long. The U.S. is behind other wealthy nations because Republicans in the U.S. have somehow decided that putting everyone’s lives at risk is a big middle finger to Democrats.
But even then, what the data from Wales and Scotland shows is that beating the COVID delta variant needs both vaccination and restrictions. Despite what looks like a big dip in U.K. cases, it doesn’t represent some stroke of genius on the part of Boris Johnson. What it means is that in Scotland, with vaccines, masks, and social distancing, cases are down by over 50%. In Wales, with vaccine, masks, and social distancing, cases are down more than 35%. In England, after declaring “freedom,” cases were down just 3%—and that’s before it’s really been long enough to see if all that freedom might not lead to renewed spread.
And Canada’s low numbers reflect not just a high rate of vaccination, but mask mandates that continue—including mandates for the vaccinated except at small gatherings. Canada’s guidelines continue to insist on masking for the unvaccinated in any indoor situation and recommend a mask for the vaccinated. And while some provincial governments relaxed the rules at the start of July, most areas are still far more observant of masking and distancing than the U.S.
The U.S. is in no condition to declare a “freedom day.” That day is millions of vaccinations and weeks of masks in the future. And every attempt to deny that truth will simply prolong the pandemic.