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 Millstone River in Nanaimo. (News Bulletin file photo)
Regional district looks at value of Nanaimo’s natural assets

Report focused on the Millstone River could inform future decisions on corporate asset management

Protesters gather along the Pearson Bridge on Terminal Avenue in downtown Nanaimo last month as part of an event called Worth More Standing. (News Bulletin file photo)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: B.C. hasn’t managed forests properly

Protesters opposing logging in Fairy Creek speak for many British Columbians, say letter writers

Nanaimo singer Victoria Vaughn recently released an EP with local producer Austin Penner. (Photo courtesy Taylor Murray)
Nanaimo singer and recent VIU grad releases EP about becoming an adult

Victoria Vaughn’s ‘Growing Pains’ recorded with local producer Austin Penner

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control has listed Harbour Air and Air Canada flights to and from Nanaimo, from April 3, 4 and 12, on its list of flights with COVID-19. (News Bulletin file)
COVID-19 cases reported for Air Canada, Harbour Air flights, says disease control centre

Nanaimo flights for April 3, 4 and 12 listed on BCCDC’s list of flights with COVID-19

Rebates through Clean B.C.’s Better Homes New Construction program are available, says the City of Nanaimo. (Vancouver Island University photo)
Energy-efficient home builds in Nanaimo eligible for up to $15K in rebates

All building permits issued on, or after, April 1, 2020 eligible, says City of Nanaimo

Pat Kauwell, a semi-retired construction manager, lives in his fifth-wheel trailer on Maxey Road because that’s what he can afford on his pension, but a Regional District of Nanaimo bylaw prohibits using RVs as permanent dwellings, leaving Kauwell and others like him with few affordable housing options. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Housing crunch or not, it’s illegal to live in an RV in Nanaimo

Regional District of Nanaimo bylaw forcing pensioner to move RV he calls home off private farm land

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

Noel Brown, Snuneymuxw First Nation carver, observes the house post he carved, which now is situated in front of the Kw’umut Lelum centre on Centre Street in Nanaimo. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
House post representative of work of Kw’umut Lelum in Nanaimo

Snuneymuxw First Nation artist Noel Brown’s carved red cedar house post unveiled Friday, April 16

(Black Press file photo).
Multiple stabbings at Vancouver Island bush party

Three youths hospitalized after an assault in Comox

A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to open up COVID vaccine registration to all B.C. residents 18+ in April

Registration does not equate to being able to book an appointment

Russ Ball (left) and some of the team show off the specimen after they were able to remove it Friday. Photo supplied
Courtenay fossil hunter finds ancient turtle on local river

The specimen will now make its home at the Royal BC Museum

Selina Robinson is shown in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday November 17, 2017. British Columbia’s finance minister says her professional training as a family therapist helped her develop the New Democrat government’s first budget during the COVID-19 pandemic, which she will table Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. finance minister to table historic pandemic-challenged deficit budget

Budget aims to take care of people during pandemic while preparing for post-COVID-19 recovery, Robinson said

Each spring, the Okanagan Fest-of-Ale is held in Penticton. This year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival will not be held. However, beer is still available. How much do you know about this beverage? (pxfuel.com)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about beer?

Put your knowledge to the test with this short quiz

Lord Tweedsmuir’s Tremmel States-Jones jumps a player and the goal line to score a touchdown against the Kelowna Owls in 2019. The face of high school football, along with a majority of other high school sports, could significantly change if a new governance proposal is passed at the B.C. School Sports AGM May 1. (Malin Jordan)
Power struggle: New governance model proposed for B.C. high school sports

Most commissions are against the new model, but B.C. School Sports (BCSS) and its board is in favour

Most Read