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Canada is likely to exceed the U.S. infection rate in the coming days (source: Johns Hopkins uni)

The assumption that we would fare better than our neighbours to the south held true through much of the pandemic's first year. Not anymore.

On April 6, Canada’s rate of new COVID-19 cases came as close as its ever been to that of the United States since the beginning of the pandemic, as Canada posted 180.8 cases per million population, while the U.S. posted 195.7 per million population. And our case count is rising so fast—up 28 per cent in the past week alone—that we’re likely to exceed the plateauing U.S. rate in the coming days.

Those numbers come as a jolt. For the past 13 months, Canadians have taken comfort in the idea that our government-funded health care system is decidedly better than the confusing public-private system south of the border, which, while being the most expensive in the world, still leaves around 30 million working age Americans without health insurance. “It’s hard not to beat the U.S. on health care,” says Trevor Tombe, an associate professor of economics at the University of Calgary.

The assumption that Canada would be better at handling a public health crisis was reinforced through much of the pandemic’s first year. COVID-19 rolled across regions of the United States, the country’s health care systems buckled under the stress. More than 31 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19 while nearly 600,000 died; in contrast, Canada, with one ninth the population, has reported 23,000 deaths and one million cases. And so, however bad things got in Canada—including the horrors in our long-term care homes—they never looked as bad as south of the border. In November, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott defended the province’s rising case rate by comparing it to Florida’s even worse numbers. On Jan. 8, America’s worst day of the pandemic, the U.S. reported 757.6 new cases of COVID-19 per million population. Canada’s worst came just one day later, when we reported 255.1 cases per million population, both on a seven-day rolling average.

In fact, we were never that superior, at least compared to fellow Commonwealth nations Australia and New Zealand. As John Ibbitson