A little less than a year ago, I filled this space with a philosophical editorial headlined Nature Knows No Borders.
What a difference a year makes. Then, I was discussing the concept of a border and how it effectively hindered important work being done on the Dempster Highway, prevented Indigenous groups from interacting around the Arctic Circle and was completely irrelevant to people who tend to move around with the seasons.
Were I to write on the same concept now, it would be on how utterly inept borders have been at containing Covid-19. It’s almost as if we expected the virus to carry a passport and adhere to security protocols.
Obviously, Covid-19 doesn’t care where the NWT ends and the Yukon begins. But what does matter is at these imaginary lines, real authority changes hands.
Because each province in Canada — and every American state — has jurisdiction over its own health care delivery, we effectively now have 63 separate strategies to combat the pandemic between the Arctic Ocean and Trump’s wall. Don’t like how the NWT has managed to keep the pandemic to 15 cases? Just go to Ontario, B.C. or Alberta and take your pick of their radically different strategies — none of which are working too well.
We’re talking about a problem that does not care where or what your circumstances are. Rich, poor, healthy, sick, green or purple, we’re all at the same risk of infection. We’re all equally capable of being vectors and we’re all equally responsible for how many laps around the planet Covid-19 is going to make.
If how we behave to contain the virus is based on which province or state we are in and its domestic politics instead of universal biological facts, we get where we are now.
It’s good that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and incoming U.S. President Joe Biden see eye-to-eye on the pandemic, but it’s vital they proceed in lock step too. A closed border does not mean nobody gets through, and if Nunavut’s experience tells us anything it’s that an isolated community with strong restrictions is not immune to an outbreak.
In this edition Julie Green tells me the GNWT has balanced the probabilities and concluded it’s not a matter of “if” another case is detected, but “when.” So their focus is increasingly on containing the cases as they pop up rather than just relying on an imaginary line to stop the forces of nature.
Given their resources and the distances they have to spread them over, this is probably the best the GNWT can do. But with other provinces flailing under the weight of the virus — Alberta recently announce they’ve lost track of contact tracing, for example — it’s become clear we can’t treat this like a group project in school. Expecting individuals and governments to voluntarily come up with a holistic, nation-wide plan is unrealistic at the best of times — in a crisis like this it’s costing lives.
Canada, the United States and Mexico need to come together and form a North America-wide Covid-19 containment plan, where the priorities on limiting spread are the same whether you’re in Indianapolis or Inuvik. Otherwise, this cycle of outbreaks, tragedies and lock downs will continue.