As the cold weather approaches, people are preparing for winter with COVID-19 restrictions and the risks associated with spending more time indoors.
At the same time, news of COVID-19 vaccines offers hope that the restrictions we are living under will eventually ease. This hope is tempered by the reality that such vaccines will not be widely available until well into 2021 and it is yet to be determined how they will be distributed or who will get them first. Across the country, the second wave of the pandemic is well underway, and while people in this region have been largely shielded from this, a recent uptick in new infections has finally burst the Atlantic Bubble.
Within the past couple of weeks, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island chose to leave the bubble for a two-week period once cases in the other two provinces started to rise and with evidence of community transmission in some places. While New Brunswick and Nova Scotia initially decided to maintain open borders, this has now stopped and people entering all of the Atlantic provinces will have to follow isolation protocols regardless of where they are coming from, including the other Atlantic provinces. Over the next couple of weeks, we will begin to see how much our provinces will be affected by the second wave and whether we have acted quickly enough to limit the impact on our communities.
The Atlantic Bubble was a success for a long period of time and people in other parts of the world took note of how we were able to keep our number of infections to a minimum while allowing our citizens to travel freely within the region. If we are able to successfully bring infections under control during this second wave, there is the expectation that the Atlantic Bubble could resume and we could continue to co-operate regionally in our response to this pandemic.
If we are unable to resume the Atlantic Bubble, it would be useful to take a closer look at the benefits of such an arrangement outside of the response to the pandemic. While we are four distinct provinces, the bubble has revealed there are a number of commonalities that exist in this region and there are definite benefits to working co-operatively, especially when it comes to supporting our economies and tourism industries.
In addition, within Canada, each of our provinces only has a small voice when compared to the larger provinces such as Ontario and Quebec. If we were able to speak as one region, our voice would have more of an impact and would better reflect the interests and concerns of Atlantic Canada.
While I am not suggesting that the time has come to politically merge our four provinces into one entity, we would do well to recognize the benefits of continued co-operation. We have built connections working together in the Atlantic Bubble and we should not let this fall by the wayside. If we are unable to resume the bubble, we need to find ways to continue to build on the momentum that presently exists and carry it into the future.
A good place to start may be the COVID-19 vaccine. While the vaccine is purchased by the federal government, distribution is a provincial matter. We should seize this opportunity to develop a regional plan so vaccine distribution is done in a consistent manner across Atlantic Canada. This would allow the lines of communication and co-operation to remain open among our provinces and could provide a framework for how we continue to work together in the future.
A statement that has become common during this pandemic is "We are stronger together" and I sincerely hope we take the spirit of this statement with us as we move into the future once this crisis has passed.
Brian Hodder works in the field of mental health and addictions. He can be reached at [email protected].