Canada is dealing with the coronavirus far better than the US, which has 30% more deaths per capita. Here’s why.

Canada’s attempts to combat the coronavirus are far from perfect — it trails behind the low death rates of South Korea and Germany — but it’s doing a lot better than the US. 

According to Vox, the US has nearly twice as many confirmed cases of the coronavirus as Canada, and it has 30% more deaths per capita. 

As of May 5, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, Canada has 61,954 confirmed cases with 4,003 deaths, out of a population of about 37 million. The US has 1,178, 906 cases with 68,689 deaths, out of a population 328 million. 

Both nations watched coronavirus spike at about the same time in mid-March. But Canada’s caseload trajectory took a far gentler curve than that in the US.

These divergent trajectories are down to a number of factors. Canada’s response was mostly quick and coordinated — it closed down schools and promptly told people to stay home, according to The Guardian. Its borders were shut off to every country but the US on March 16. (The US-Canada land border was also closed on March 20.)

In the US, weeks were lost as different states went into lockdowns at different points, or at different “half-hearted” levels.

Politics mattered, too. While President Donald Trump was hosting daily coronavirus briefings where he criticized governors, and wrongly suggested disinfectant could be a coronavirus cure, Canada’s leaders mostly came together and took the coronavirus seriously. 

Regional differences were put aside. Even right-wing leaders, like Ontario’s premier Doug Ford, condemned attempts to protest social distancing, while Trump defended social distancing protesters as “good people” suffering from cabin fever, Business Insider previously reported.

University of Toronto epidemiologist David Fisman told Vox: “We have a federal government that is supporting provinces’ responses. You [in the US] have a chief executive who is directly undermining the public health response.”

For instance, on March 24, Trump forecast that normality would return by Easter. No politician said the same in Canada. Instead, on April 2, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for a “Team Canada” effort to stem the outbreak, before parliament debated a massive aid package proposal. Canada’s deputy Prime Miniser Chrystia Freeland told reporters that “now is not the time for partisanship.”

Another big difference is that Canada continued to fund public-health groups before the coronavirus hit, while the US repeatedly cut funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

And unlike the US, Canada has a universal health care system. Professor Peter Berman, a public health expert at the University of British Columbia’s medical school, told The New York Times that the way hospitals are run in the two countries is vital to understanding the difference in cases. 

In the US, hospitals are private. In Canada, the health system is based on fixed funding and it does not matter how many beds are used. This, he said: “allows the public health authorities to essentially commandeer the hospital system. It’s a command and control thing, it’s not a coordination thing.”

So authorities in Canada could order hospitals to prepare. In the US, he said, no one could tell hospitals what to do. But, even worse than that, the system was designed to work against such orders.

“If you have a private hospital where all the beds are paid for by patients and by insurance, when you have an empty bed, you have no revenue. So there’s a strong incentive for the hospital managers, especially in trying economic times, to be reluctant to cooperate,” he said. 

It was this model, he said, that led to hospitals panicking about not having enough beds or equipment. 

Canada’s response is far from perfect. One of its big problems is the high death rate in nursing homes. On April 17, The New York Times reported around half the people who were killed by the coronavirus — at that point 1,193 — were residents in nursing homes.

But Canada can be praised for basic competence. According to Vox, it’s “what you would expect from a country with a functioning political and health care system. The United States, by contrast, hasn’t cleared this lowest of bars.” 

York University political scientist Steven Hoffman told Vox Canada’s biggest health threat is now cases coming from the US. 

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