Ottawa expects ‘more than one wave’ of COVID-19 as it unleashes billions to fight the virus
OTTAWA—Warning that COVID-19 could crash around the world in successive waves over the coming months, Canadian officials are scrambling to securetest kits and medical supplies as the federal government takes its most aggressive steps yet to confront the deadly pandemic.
On Wednesday, the Trudeau government uncorked $82 billion in direct aid and deferred tax payments for individuals and businesses. The huge flow of money — described as the first phase of an even bigger rescue plan — is meant to support people who lose their jobs or miss work because of the virus, and help businesses survive the economic turmoil churned up by the health crisis.
At the same time, Canada extended its travel ban on foreign visitors to include citizens of the United States — a move that was unthinkable mere days ago.
“Canadians need to get used to a situation in which things are changing and moving much more rapidly than we are accustomed to,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, told reporters on Parliament Hill.
“The decisions that each one of us takes today will save lives,” she said.
But even as the federal government cranked up its response to the virus, officials made clear they expect the COVID-19 health crisis that has gripped Canada and the rest of the world is going to get worse before it gets better. British Columbia joined Ontario and other provinces in declaring a provincial state of emergency Wednesday, as Quebec saw its first death from the virus, and infections continued to rise across the country.
Speaking alongside Freeland in Ottawa, Canada’s chief public health officer said the COVID-19 pandemic will not wane quickly. She expects to see “more than one wave” of the virus roll across the globe in the coming months, and said the main aim at this critical moment is to delay how many people get sick so Canada’s hospitals aren’t swamped with infected patients.
“This virus is going to be with us for some time. It will not be eradicated from the world in months,” she said.
As more Canadians contract the virus, health officials from British Columbia and Ontario have raised concerns in recent days over the availability of testing kits as cases spike. Ontario’s top medical officer said this week he “doesn’t think there’s enough tests” in the province.
So far, Canada has tested more than 50,000 potential cases, Tam said Wednesday — more than the U.S., a country that is 10 times more populous. But Tam acknowledged that the 800,000 testing swabs officials have secured so far only goes “some ways” to fulfilling Canada’s expected needs. The government has cited research suggesting 30 to 70 per cent of the population could contract the virus — anywhere from about 10 million to 25 million people.
Health officials did not respond to questions from the Star on Wednesday about how many testing kits Canada expects to need during the crisis.
Tam also acknowledged all countries are facing challenges when it comes to critical medical supplies, and said Canada is already moving to purchase more ventilators to “pre-empt” the need to put more people on aided breathing equipment.
She said Canada currently has enough protective equipment to meet “at least 75 per cent” of the country’s needs, and urged medical personnel to be careful not to waste the supplies they have now.
Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu added that the federal government is working on “large, large orders” of necessary equipment and supplies, and is in talks with private manufacturers who are prepared to repurpose their factories to make medical supplies.
The government also rushed the approval of two types of diagnostic test systems for COVID-19 on Wednesday, which Hajdu’s department said would be “readily available” across Canada.
“What we’re trying to do is accelerate our supplies from immediate, urgent need; accelerate our work on the treatment for COVID-19; and accelerate our work on a vaccine,” she said.
“Until we actually get all three of those things working together, we could actually see a scenario where we would have the virus continue to circle the globe. And that’s the true challenge here.”
Citing “unprecedented demand and urgent need,” the department also announced it would fast-track access to new products like hand-sanitizer, disinfectants and swabs used for testing, by letting them go on sale even if they haven’t met regulatory requirements like bi-lingual packaging or licensing.
On the push for a vaccine, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced Wednesday that it is arranging a global “solidarity trial” for a COVID-19 vaccine.