In today’s edition of the Morning newsletter, David Leonhardt writes:
With coronavirus cases surging across most of Europe and the Americas, it can be easy to give into nihilism and wonder whether there is any good way for a country to fight the virus.
But the scale of the recent outbreaks really is different, depending on the country. Two countries are worth some attention: Canada and Germany.
Neither Germany nor Canada has escaped the fall wave of the virus, as you can see. But they are also both doing a lot less bad than their neighbors. How?
For one thing, both countries have done a better job of avoiding wishful thinking than either the Trump administration or some European governments.
Germany announced yesterday that it would close restaurants, bars, gyms, theaters and more for several weeks. “We must act, and act now, to prevent a national health crisis,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said. Compare that with the U.S., where the rate of confirmed new cases has been higher than Germany’s current rate for almost all of the past five months — yet almost nobody is talking about closing restaurants.
Yesterday’s move isn’t the first aggressive one from Germany. It was also far ahead of the U.S. in developing widely available tests this spring and offers them to residents free.
But Canada may be an even better example, given that its current rate of new cases is well below Germany’s. Consider this map:
Some of Canada’s success is probably cultural and would have been hard to replicate in the U.S., as Ian Austen, a Canadian who has covered the country for The Times for more than a decade, told me. “There is generally a lot of deference to authority in Canada,” Ian said.
But specific actions have also mattered. Unlike in the U.S., conservative politicians in Canada are not doubting the wisdom of mask-wearing, Ian said. This spring, Doug Ford, the conservative premier of Ontario, described people protesting social-distancing measures as “a bunch of yahoos.”
And some top public-health officials in Canadian provinces have become semi-celebrities, as they have repeatedly urged social distancing, mask-wearing and other forms of caution. Imagine versions of Anthony Fauci, but ones who are praised across the political spectrum, rather than being called “a disaster,” as President Trump did with Fauci.
Among the most successful Canadian regions have been the four small provinces along the Atlantic Ocean, all of which have almost extinguished the virus. They have done so by largely closing their borders — a strategy that has also worked in several other countries, including Australia, Ghana, Taiwan and Vietnam, despite skepticism from some political liberals around the world.
The four Canadian provinces — Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and the combined Newfoundland and Labrador — were successful enough this spring that they were able to form a joint “bubble” this summer. Residents can travel among the four, even as they remain closed to the outside.
“We don’t have any cases here,” Sharon Stewart, a restaurant owner in Pictou, Nova Scotia, recently told The Globe and Mail, “and we want to keep it that way.”