There are many things our governments can start doing right now to prepare for the expected second wave of COVID-19, and for future pandemics.
A rigorous and independent public inquiry is necessary, but we don’t have to wait for its findings months or years in the future to know what needs to be done.
We need to do what previous government investigations of Canada’s 2009 H1N1 pandemic and 2003 SARS epidemic recommended, which were ignored or forgotten once the immediate crisis was over.
The federal and provincial governments will need to maintain adequate, up-to-date stockpiles of pandemic-related personal protective equipment, as much of it as possible produced in Canada, with Canadians the first priority when it’s distributed.
Medical testing of those suspected of having COVID-19, and of the general population to accurately determine the spread of the virus, must be vastly improved.
Federal, provincial and municipal governments of all political stripes need to develop co-ordinated methods of reporting testing results for COVID-19 that are consistent across the country.
While this is a decades-old problem requiring expensive, long-term solutions, chronic overcrowding in many Canadian hospitals, long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, has to be permanently addressed.
That will mean the construction of thousands of new chronic care and long-term care beds in Canada’s largest provinces, so that patients who need this type of care are not taking up beds in acute care hospitals because there’s nowhere else for them to go.
These new facilities must be built to modern health and safety standards to help contain the spread of contagious infections like COVID-19 in nursing, long-term care and retirement homes.
None of these problems, or solutions, are new.
In October 2003, following the SARS epidemic, a federal government study conducted by the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health, cited numerous deficiencies in relation to these issues.
Among them were, a “lack of surge capacity in the clinical and health-care systems, difficulties with timely access to laboratory testing and results” and an “absence of protocols for data or information-sharing among levels of government.”
Having failed to address these issues for 17 years, we can not afford to fail once again.