Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wear his mask as he takes part in a ground breaking event at the Iamgold Cote Gold mining site in Gogama, Ont., on Friday, September 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wear his mask as he takes part in a ground breaking event at the Iamgold Cote Gold mining site in Gogama, Ont., on Friday, September 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

VIDEO: Trudeau, Tam defend Canadian response times to COVID-19 pandemic

Tam said the information about the virus was changing rapidly, but the work in Canada was constant

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government began preparing for a possible pandemic as soon as it received the first alert about a mysterious cluster of pneumonia cases in China on New Year’s Eve.

Trudeau is defending his government against accusations it didn’t act fast enough to warn Canadians about the danger COVID-19 posed to their health and the economy.

This comes as U.S. President Donald Trump is accused of downplaying the danger of the novel coronavirus while privately telling journalist Bob Woodward in early February, during an interview for his book, he knew it was much worse than the flu.

“Every step of the way, we were informed by our experts as to how to keep Canadians safe — what needed to be done, what measures would be helpful in continuing to support Canadians as we were aware of this potential,” Trudeau said Friday during a news conference in Gogama, Ont.

“But as people know, we were very much learning on the way as we responded.”

A briefing note prepared in May for federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu says Canada got its first warning of a potential new virus on Dec. 31, 2019. That was when the Global Public Health Intelligence Network alerted the Public Health Agency of Canada of a mystifying cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China that appeared to be linked to a new virus.

Dr. Theresa Tam, the chief public health officer, met with her provincial counterparts two days later to update them and begin forming a Canadian response plan. Canada’s first case — a man who had been in Wuhan —came Jan. 25. On Jan. 30, Canada warned against travel to China. Travellers coming from China were asked to isolate for two weeks after arriving.

Similar warnings were added for Iran and Italy in early March as the pandemic surged in those countries.

But Hajdu and Tam continued to tell Canadians the risk of getting COVID-19 in Canada was low until at least March 10. The border remained open until March 16, when all non-essential travellers except Americans were barred entry. The Canada-U.S. border restrictions were added March 21.

Until March 24, the majority of new COVID-19 cases in Canada were in people who had travelled outside the country.

Conservative health critic Michelle Rempel Garner said Friday that Hajdu should be fired for not doing more earlier. As of Friday, Canada has had 134,924 positive COVID-19 cases and 9,163 deaths.

READ MORE: B.C. records 132 more COVID-19 cases, one in long-term care

“If action had been taken three months earlier, would things be different,” said Rempel Garner. “Minister Hajdu has demonstrated dangerous incompetence. So why is she still in charge of Canadians’ health and safety?”

Tam said the decisions were made as the information warranted. On March 10, when the message to Canadians was that the virus was not spreading in Canadian communities yet, about 80 people had tested positive, almost all of them people who had travelled. Six provinces had yet to confirm a single case.

Two weeks later, the number of domestic cases exceeded travel cases and every province had started to see them.

Tam said the information about the virus was changing rapidly, but the work in Canada was constant.

“Ever since we got information about the cluster of pneumonia in Wuhan, domestic preparedness already began to escalate,” she said.

Lab testing was one of the first priorities, to ensure Canadian labs could actually test people for COVID-19. In February, she said, provinces and territories were warned “the window for preparedness was closing,” Tam said.

But she said within Canada, the risk of local transmission was still very low and that was why that advice continued to be given until mid-March.

“As we’ve seen with this pandemic things change very rapidly, so very soon after (March 10) lots of public health measures evolved and escalated at every level of public health in Canada,” she said.

On travel advice, Tam said the initial warnings pertained to countries with significant outbreaks but noted when the worldwide travel ban came March 16, it was the first time it had ever been done and before many nations had any cases.

“That was quite a significant move,” she said. “We were not waiting for a country that hasn’t announced any cases to provide that advice.”

Tam and Trudeau also warned this week that it’s up to Canadians whether there is a significant second wave of the virus, after cases continued to creep up.

The daily average case number over the previous week is now 618, up from 545 on Monday, and 435 on Aug. 31.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CanadaCoronavirusJustin Trudeau

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Okanagan’s first virtual wedding fair will be held Saturday, March 27. {Paul Rodgers photo)
Okanagan to host virtual wedding fair

Okanagan wine country is No. 1 destination for weddings - online event set for March 27

Illuminate Spirit Revelstoke Society said Revelstoke’s dark downtown core is unwelcoming. Lighting would make it more inviting and a point of interest. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)
New community group hopes to ‘light up’ Revelstoke

Illuminate Spirit Revelstoke Society aims to purchase decorative lights for the downtown core

A dose of COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at a vaccination clinic in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
39 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health region

The total number of cases in the region since the pandemic began is now at 7,334

Arrow Lakes Caribou Society said the new caribou pen near the Nakusp Hotsprings is close to completion. (Submitted)
Maternity caribou pen near Nakusp inches closer to fruition

While Nakusp recently approved the project’s lease, caribou captures are delayed due to COVID-19

Kootenay-Columbia MP Rob Morrison speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons. File photo.
Kootenay-Columbia MP supports motion condemning Uighur genocide

Rob Morrison says labelling Uighur persecution as a genocide sends a message to Chinese government

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. The federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, start with the vaccination of police officers in internal police vaccination centers. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
B.C. officials to unveil new details of COVID vaccination plan Monday

Seniors and health-care workers who haven’t gotten their shot are next on the list

(Contributed)
Kelowna flight potentially exposed to COVID-19

Third case on a local flight this month, compared to 14 through January

Vernon Search and Rescue, with help from the Air Rescue One helicopter out of Wildcat Helicopters in Kelowna, and Central Okanagan Search and Rescue, were able to transport an injured snowmobiler to Vernon Regional Airport, where he was loaded into an ambulance and taken to Vernon Jubilee Hospital with a serious, painful back injury. (Facebook photo)
Okanagan helicopter rescue teams called to retrieve injured sledder at Greystokes

Vernon and Central Okanagan Search and Rescue help load injured man into waiting helicopter

An investigation is underway after a man was shot and killed by Tofino RCMP in Opitsaht. (Black Press Media file photo)
Man shot and killed by RCMP near Tofino, police watchdog investigating

Investigation underway by Independent Investigations Office of British Columbia.

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver on Tuesday December 11, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C.’s compromise on in-person worship at three churches called ‘absolutely unacceptable’

Would allow outdoor services of 25 or less by Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack churches

Wills Hodgkinson, 10, and his mom Neeley Brimer get ready to battle round three of cancer. The community of Penticton has his back. (Submitted)
Community raises $21K to help Penticton boy battle third round of cancer

Okanoggin Barbers held the fundraiser on Saturday for 10-year-old Wills Hodgkinson

Baldy Mountain Resort was shut down on Saturday after a fatal workplace accident. (Baldy Mountain picture)
UPDATE: 70-year-old man killed in workplace accident at Baldy Mountain

The mountain closed on Saturday but has partially re-opened today (Sunday)

Most Read