Let’s be honest: the main reason we’re so delighted about the announced closure of the U.S. border is that our southern neighbor has grossly mismanaged the coronavirus epidemic for far too long.
The tone has changed in Washington in the last 48 hours. While that’s a good thing, it’s not entirely reassuring.
That is because the lax attitude of the past few weeks has inevitably allowed COVID-19 to spread in such a way that the measures announced by Ottawa have become necessary to protect the health of people across Canada.
Every state in the U.S. is affected, with Washington (in the west) and New York (in the east) reporting the highest number of cases so far. The proximity of these outbreaks to Canada is troubling, and not just a hypothetical scenario.
A report released by Imperial College London on Monday, Mar. 16, provides a clear picture of the threat to the United States. According to simulations, in the event that nothing is done to curb the epidemic either by the United States government or by its citizens, the coronavirus could kill up to 2.2 million people there.* The New York Times, which cited this figure, believes it was possible this study jolted the White House out of its torpor.
Thus, the idea is that, by partially closing our border to the United States, we can protect ourselves ... from Donald Trump.
And doubly so. Since this decision was jointly made with the White House, its short-tempered president wouldn’t think of blaming us.
As for the fact that only nonessential travel will be prohibited between our two countries, this is desirable.
Our economy and that of the United States are uniquely linked, and many goods that cross the border are essential for our daily lives. We can’t barricade ourselves in; there would be too much to lose. In the wake of the Ottawa announcement, François Legault took care to point out that Canada gets "a lot of fruit and vegetables from the United States and a lot of medicines." And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Let’s also consider local businesses whose employees have work permits in the U.S. (The reverse is also true.) Their activities can be essential to the operation of factories on the other side of the border. Quebec manufacturers and exporters are following the matter very closely.
Another crucial issue seems to have been settled by Ottawa: that of asylum seekers crossing Roxham Road from the United States. So far, they have not been quarantined in a formal and systematic manner. This has raised some concerns, and rightly so.
On Wednesday, Justin Trudeau promised that everyone who enters through this path will be placed in isolation for 14 days. Quebec stressed that this message was also sent to the Legault government. Ottawa has even specified that this quarantine will take place "in federal facilities" so as not to exert more undue pressure on the provincial government’s resources. Let's see when and how all that will take shape.
With the measures announced to protect our border, alongside the economic stabilization plan of some $82 billion, the federal government finally seems to have adopted the language of firmness in its fight against the epidemic. It’s about time.
Editor’s note: The World Health Organization declared the outbreak of COVID-19 to be a pandemic on March 11.