NDP Health Critic, Don Davies, issued the following statement:
“Today’s report from the Auditor General of Canada is a scathing indictment of the federal government’s emergency preparedness and pandemic response.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is specifically mandated to be our country’s lead organization for planning and coordinating a national response to infectious diseases that pose a risk to public health. This report reveals they failed in this critical responsibility, detailing a litany of errors, omissions and mismanagement.
The audit found that PHAC was poorly prepared for a global pandemic.
PHAC did not assess the pandemic risk posed by a disease like COVID-19 and the potential impact were it to be introduced to Canada. As a result, the Agency continued to assess the risk of COVID-19 as low until March 16, 2020. By then, Canada had already recorded over 400 confirmed cases and community spread was underway.
The Global Public Health Intelligence Network did not issue an alert to provide early warning of the novel coronavirus. The Auditor General was unable to determine the reason for this oversight.
The Agency’s senior management failed to address long-standing problems that were identified decades ago, and that they were repeatedly advised to fix. Some of these issues were flagged as far back as 1999 and emphasized after the 2003 SARS and 2009 H1N1 outbreaks.
It revealed that PHAC had not tested or updated its readiness in violation of internal standards.
It stated that PHAC failed to resolve long-standing shortcomings in Canada’s health surveillance information and data systems.
The audit found that PHAC only verified compliance with quarantine orders for one-third of incoming travelers and did not consistently refer travelers for follow-up who risked not complying.
These errors and omissions had a serious and negative impact on the federal government’s ability to effectively protect Canadians throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This represents a profound failure of governance and an inexcusable dereliction of duty by the Health Minister.
We must ensure this never happens again.