LILLEY: Another Trudeau mistake that cost Canada big on COVID-19

September 12, 2020

https://torontosun.com/opinion/columnists/lilley-another-trudeau-mistake-that-cost-canada-big-on-covid-19

 

(Re-printed without permission)

 

News reports of U.S. President Donald Trump downplaying the serious nature of COVID-19 have received plenty of news coverage — unfortunately, we can’t say the same thing for the Trudeau government’s handling of the situation.

 

As late as mid-March, the Trudeau government was saying the risk to Canadians was low and closing borders was ineffective, if not downright racist, while also discouraging the mask use we all deal with now.

 

That’s not the worst of it.

 

We now know the Trudeau government took actions in the lead-up to COVID-19 that seriously weakened Canada’s pandemic preparedness. As I’ve reported on extensively, the National Emergency Strategic Stockpile — the backstop for provincial health systems for items such as anti-viral drugs and personal protective equipment — was allowed to wither and rot.

 

Now we have learned that an early warning system for detecting pandemics was silenced in 2019, just months before COVID-19 reared its ugly head.

 

This is nothing short of neglect by the Trudeau government.

 

The Global Public Health Intelligence Network was started in 1998 to give the Canadian government and, through it, the World Health Organization a heads up when new viruses, outbreaks or other potential health problems arose. The team of doctors and epidemiologists would scour news sources around the world, often in small local news outlets, looking for patterns.

 

As the Globe and Mail reported when they broke this story weeks ago, outbreaks of MERS, H1N1 and Ebola were first detected by this specialized group within the Public Health Agency of Canada. Their early warnings allowed for governments here and elsewhere to respond quickly.

 

After issuing thousands of alerts over the years, the team was disbanded in May 2019.

 

“With no pandemic scares in recent memory, the government felt GPHIN was too internationally focused, and therefore not a good use of funding,” the Globe reported in July.

 

In August, facing embarrassment, the Trudeau government put the team back together. Too bad it was long after the virus had already entered Canada.

 

That this was a budget decision by the government is unconscionable. This is a government that has shown they are not interested in saving money or being careful with taxpayer dollars. They were running massive deficits even before the pandemic and are promising to run bigger deficits well into the future.

 

Yet on a key government responsibility, they tried to save money by dispersing the early warning system?

 

This is also a failure of the people at the Public Health Agency of Canada.

 

This is an organization that was set up in the wake of the SARS crisis specifically to prepare Canada for events like COVID-19. Their published mission is to “promote and protect the health of Canadians.”

 

 

For some reason they chose to do that by dispersing the team that provided early warnings and by failing to restock the National Emergency Strategic Stockpile. Meanwhile, this same organization spent $5.6 million on climate change activities last year, including a $500,000 grant to the University of Winnipeg for a climate change storytelling project.

Money for climate change storytelling but not for warning or preparing you for an infectious disease.

 

Health Minister Patty Hajdu told CTV on Thursday that the decision to close the group in 2019 was a bureaucratic one, nothing to do with any politician in the government. On Friday, I asked Dr. Theresa Tam twice who made the decision to silence the group, and why, and she could not answer.

 

Between moves like this, letting the stockpile rot, telling Canadians our risk was low well into March and refusing to deal with the border, the Trudeau government has failed Canadians badly.

 

All of us, including our media, should be focused more on the decisions and actions of our own government in the pandemic rather than the words of the American president.

 

blilley@postmedia.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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