Canada needs a National Pandemic Response Plan – Now

Since COVID-19 has gripped Canada, the federal government has pursued a predominantly reactive approach, essentially waiting to act until left with no other choice. Canadians have been asked to remain in a “holding pattern” of varying degrees of lockdown for over five months. We were told it would be for the short term and that once we had flattened the curve and a vaccine had been developed, life would gradually return to normal.

However, Canada’s Director of Public Health Theresa Tam has recently issued an alarming statement to the contrary, “we’re planning, as a public health community, that we’re going to have to manage this pandemic certainly over the next year, but certainly it may be planning for the longer term of the next two to three years during which the vaccine may play a role. But we don’t know yet.”

Canada cannot survive another two to three years of lockdowns, economic hardship and uncertainty without a proactive, comprehensive strategy.

Canada urgently needs a National Pandemic Response Strategy and Implementation Plan that would address the following elements.

Pandemic Monitoring & Communication

Canada requires improved domestic capability to forecast, monitor, validate and communicate pandemic infection and transmission rates. Canada was once a world leader in this area providing highly valuable early warnings of global outbreaks until May 2019 when the Liberal Government disbanded the Global Health Information Network (GHIN). This capability must be re-instated and enhanced to include artificial intelligence, data management protocols and standards, closer integration with the Provinces and clear and concise public communication networks to ensure all Canadians have the same and most up to date information. Additionally, Canada needs to work with other likeminded countries and the WHO to create a smart fast moving response team to share research and rapidly respond to invasive pandemics, thereby saving time and sharing costs. Only with accurate and timely information can all citizens effectively prepare and plan for our nation’s future.

Critical Medical Equipment & Supplies Self –Sufficiency

This pandemic has laid bare Canada’s dependence on other nations for essential medical equipment and supplies. Everything from N95 masks, to ventilators, to active pharmaceutical ingredients, to an eventual vaccine, Canada has been unable to obtain sufficient quantities to meet our requirements, and the situation is worsening the longer the pandemic persists. Canada must be self-sufficient and define a national list and quantities of critical items, and ensure domestic manufacturing and supply capability to meet Canada’s needs.

Enhanced Canadian Forces Medical Personnel & Infrastructure

Canada’s COVID-19 response illustrated that provincial health care systems generally operate very close to maximum capacity. This is an efficient and effective way to manage health care resources but does not offer resilient capacity to meet an unprecedented situation like a pandemic. Canada’s military is historically adept at rapid deployment of mobile field hospitals and medical capability from doctors, nurses and associated medical professionals. This standby capability must be immediately enhanced to be available to be deployed promptly to provinces and cities during an invasive pandemic, such as we saw with the support provided to long-term care homes in Ontario and Quebec. It could also be deployed internationally to support other nation’s pandemic response to prevent the spread of a virus before it reaches Canada.

Economic Modeling & Resilience

Canada requires more comprehensive economic research to model and recommend action plans for federal, provincial and municipal governments in planning, implementing and practicing pandemic responses. The challenges the federal government had in defining and delivering the emergency relief benefits highlighted serious gaps in the national understanding of how the Canadian economy actually operates. Development of realistic and robust economic models is key to forecasting which population groups and industrial sectors will be most adversely affected and targeted programs to support effective economic recovery.

Surviving and thriving another two to three years of the COVID-19 global pandemic, in an increasingly nationalistic focused and competitive world won’t be easy. However, Canadians have faced and overcome challenges before and will do so again. We have the technology, the resources and the will to position Canada for a prosperous future – and if we had a National Pandemic Response Strategy and Implementation Plan we would have a comprehensive and integrated plan to get it done.

I would like to thank a constituent, Bill Franklin for his extensive research on this topic and for collaborating with me on this article to position Canada for success during this COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Article Originally published in the Auroran Newspaper