Canada outperformed most G10 countries during first two years of pandemic response: study
Canada handled key aspects of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic better in the first two years of the health emergency than most G10 countries, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of Toronto and Unity Health Toronto compared COVID-19 infection, death, excess mortality and vaccination rates, social and public health restrictions and economic performance to determine how the G10 countries performed.
The countries — including Canada, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States — were chosen due to similarities in their economic and political models, per-capita income levels and population size.
Dr. Fahad Razak, who co-authored the study, also serves as scientific director of the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table.
"The pandemic had an enormous impact on all countries… and if we look at countries that are very similar to our own, we see that there were enormous challenges across the board," Razak told CTVNews.ca.
"Given all of that, the burden of the pandemic we experienced in Canada was probably lower than many other countries, and it was probably related to the engagement we had with things like vaccination and the restrictions that were experienced here."
While Canada was one of the slowest to introduce COVID-19 vaccines, it had the highest proportion of fully vaccinated people as of February, 2022.
Canada's per-capita rate of COVID-19 cases per million — 82,700 — was the second lowest of all the countries included in the study, after Japan.
Canada's rate of COVID-19 deaths was also second-lowest among countries included in the study, at 919 deaths per one million, as was its excess mortality rate, which incorporates the number of deaths during a period of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic compared to the expected number of deaths in nominal conditions. Only Japan's COVID-19 death and excess mortality rates were lower, despite the country's lower vaccination rates, less severe restrictions and older population.
The study determined that if France's rate of infection had occurred in Canada in the first two years of the pandemic, Canada would have seen about 8.75 million more infections. If America's vaccination and COVID-19-related death rates had occurred in Canada, about 5.9 million fewer Canadians would have been vaccinated and about 68,800 more would have died from COVID-19.
"That number means that most of us probably would have a friend or a family member… who would have died in Canada in the last two years… and who's alive today," Razak said.
Canada's public health restrictions were the most stringent after Italy's, and it had the most weeks of school closures after the U.S. Canada's economy experienced trends similar to to other countries in inflation and public debt, but Canadian GDP growth was weaker.
While it might be tempting to assume Canada's weak GDP growth was the result of public health restrictions including retail closures and restrictions on public gatherings, Razak cautioned that GDP is affected by a complicated range of factors across many different sectors.
What's important right now, Razak said, is that people understand the impact of their actions — including following public health guidelines and getting vaccinated — on Canada's infection and death rates. Even a reduction in the number of non-fatal SARS-CoV-2 infections means a lower percentage of the population will suffer from the effects of long-term COVID-19 symptoms. While scientists are still learning about the condition, many COVID long-haulers have reported difficulty working and caring for their families.
"We achieved this over the last two years with real costs; with costs to individual freedom and restrictions on societal functions and potentially some economic costs as well," Razak said. "Was it worth it? That's the question people need to ask themselves."
What people decide when considering this question could have implications for the way they handle potential future restrictions, should cases surge again in the fall. Canadians have already shown signs of growing fatigue around COVID-19 restrictions and vaccination recommendations. For example, while approximately 81.7 per cent of Canada's total population is fully vaccinated, only 48.6 per cent of Canadians have received a booster dose as of May 22.
"That is a really important signal of the fact that the public's engagement with the steps for pandemic control is starting to erode," Razak said. "And there's an important need for policy makers to re-engage the public and emphasize how well we've done, but also use that as a launching point to say, 'Here are the next challenges.'"
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