Dr. Theresa Tam, testifying before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health on Tuesday, May 19.Screencapture / Parlvu.parl.gc.ca
Canada’s top doc admits authorities were slow to act in closing the borders in response to COVID-19.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said that quicker action could have been taken in responding to the global pandemic.
“The virus itself (was) travelling across the world very fast,” she told the standing Commons committee on health on Monday.
Noting that the virus’ epicentre was in China early in the pandemic, it wasn’t until cases started appearing in Europe and the United States that she says sparked real concern in public health circles over it spreading to Canada.
Critics have argued that Canada’s reaction to COVID-19 was haphazardly slow, full of contradictory messaging and following the lead of both the World Health Organization and the Chinese government. China has come under fire for allegedly downplaying the dangers while the rest of the world scrambled to contain its spread.
On March 5, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the decision to keep the borders open, dismissing calls to close them as “knee-jerk reactions” that were not required to keep people safe.
Two days after the U.S. declared a national emergency on March 13, Health Minister Patty Hajdu criticized calls to close the border, calling such measures “ineffective” against a global pandemic.
“Border measures are highly ineffective and, in some cases, can create harm,” she insisted, repeating her prior claims that closing borders could actually harm attempts to mitigate the spread.
Days later, Canada did an about-face and closed the borders, banning all foreign nationals for all but essential travel.
When asked by Bloc Quebecois MP Luc Theriault if Tam should’ve acted sooner, she said she wouldn’t have second-guessed policy makers advising against a shutdown.
Saying the virus was travelling in “invisible ways,” Tam said a lot happened very quickly between March 13-18.
“In hindsight, yes, I think people could act faster and maybe in the future we would take different decisions and that remains to be looked at in lessons learned.”
While debate rages on when COVID-19 first emerged, Chinese government data suggests patient zero was a 55-year-old man from China’s Hubei province, diagnosed Nov. 17.
Hubei’s capital city Wuhan proved the pandemic’s epicentre, with 79,112 reported infections and 5,912 deaths — although actual figures may be much higher.
During the week of Dec. 15, Wuhan’s medical community became concerned about exponential increases of the mysterious illness, particularly after health-care workers at two separate hospitals fell ill Dec. 25.
By late December, Chinese social media platforms began censoring mentions of Wuhan-related pneumonia online — including references to Dr. Li Wenliang, the hospital physician publicly admonished by government officials as a “rumourmonger” for sounding the alarm on Dec. 30, drawing parallels with SARS.
Airports in South Korea, Japan and Taiwan had started quarantining Chinese travellers by Dec. 31, with Taiwanese officials boarding flights seeking symptomatic passengers.
On Jan. 7, Dr. Theresa Tam — Canada’s chief public health officer — said there’s “no evidence” of person-to-person spread, and called it a “positive sign” that no health-care workers had fallen ill.
On Jan. 29, officials responded to Canada’s outbreak by admonishing “stigmatizing comments” made online against Chinese-Canadians.
On March 12, Ontario ordered all schools to close. On March 13, the U.S. closed its borders.
Canada did an about-face, closing its borders on March 16. The federal government banned ng foreign nationals on March 18, and restricted international flights to just four Canadian airports.
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World news – CA – Canada waited too long to close borders: Canada’s top doc