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

Marilyn Beuckert, a member of Port Alberni’s Community Action Team, hammers the final stake holding red ribbons that represent the 46 people from mid- Vancouver Island who have died of drug overdoses in 2020. The display went up Dec. 4, 2020 in front of the Salvation Army building at Argyle Street and Fourth Avenue. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Red ribbons mark drug overdose deaths in poignant Port Alberni display

Each ribbon signifies a person who died in mid Vancouver Island: CAT team

The Alberni Valley Non-Contact Hockey League has suspended play under provincial health orders despite having a strict COVID-19 safety plan. (FILE PHOTO COURTESY TREVOR ZADO)
Adult sports shutdown ‘tough pill to swallow’ says Alberni hockey league president

Hockey, curling suspend play under new provincial COVID-19 orders

Renovations are complete at the Bread of Life and following a final health inspection, the warming centre at the Third Avenue facility will be open a few days a week. (PHOTO COURTESY BREAD OF LIFE SOCIETY)
Port Alberni’s warming centre close to opening

Organizers aim for Dec. 4 pending final health inspection

”Once upon a time…” (METRO CREATIVE)
QUINN’S QUIPS: Who is the creature in the shiny red mask?

Annual Alberni Valley News story contest kicks off for 2020

FILLING THE KETTLES
Hayden Henschel, 3, has fun slipping coins into a Salvation Army kettle on Wednesday, Nov. 25 in front of Walmart. Henschel was shopping with her family when they stopped to make a donation to the kettle campaign. To donate online, visit the website www.fillthekettle.com. (SONJA DRINKWATER/ Special to the AV News)
Port Alberni Salvation Army’s kettle campaign seeks donations

Contact-less donations are available online

A snow moon rises over Mt. Cheam in Chilliwack on Feb. 8, 2020. Friday, Dec. 11, 2020 is Mountain Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Dec. 6 to 12

Mountain Day, Dewey Decimal System Day and Lard Day are all coming up this week

Robert Riley Saunders. (File)
First Nations Leadership Council demands justice for victims of B.C. social worker

Union of BC Indian Chiefs calls actions of Robert Saunders ‘nothing short of complete depravity’

Demonstrators, organized by the Public Fishery Alliance, outside the downtown Vancouver offices of Fisheries and Oceans Canada July 6 demand the marking of all hatchery chinook to allow for a sustainable public fishery while wild stocks recover. (Public Fishery Alliance Facebook photo)
Angry B.C. anglers see petition tabled in House of Commons

Salmon fishers demand better access to the healthy stocks in the public fishery

(Hotel Zed/Flytographer)
B.C. hotel grants couple 18 years of free stays after making baby on Valentines Day

Hotel Zed has announced a Kelowna couple has received free Valentines Day stays for next 18 years

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Farmers raise slogans during a protest on a highway at the Delhi-Haryana state border, India, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the diplomatic scolding Canada’s envoy to India received on Friday for his recent comments in support of protesting Indian farmers. Tens of thousands of farmers have descended upon the borders of New Delhi to protest new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Manish Swarup
Trudeau brushes off India’s criticism for standing with farmers in anti-Modi protests

The High Commission of India in Ottawa had no comment when contacted Friday

Montreal Alouettes’ Michael Sam is set to make his pro football debut as he warms up before the first half of a CFL game against the Ottawa Redblacks in Ottawa on Friday, Aug. 7, 2015. Sam became the first publicly gay player to be drafted in the NFL. He signed with the Montreal Alouettes after being released by St. Louis, but abruptly left after playing one game. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Study finds Canada a ‘laggard’ on homophobia in sports

Among females, 44 per cent of Canadians who’ve come out to teammates reported being victimized

Nurse Kath Olmstead prepares a shot as the world’s biggest study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway Monday, July 27, 2020, in Binghamton, N.Y. U.S. biotech firm Moderna says its vaccine is showing signs of producing lasting immunity to COVID-19, and that it will have as many as many as 125 million doses available by the end of March. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Hans Pennink
Canada orders more COVID vaccines, refines advice on first doses as cases reach 400K

Canada recorded its 300,000th case of COVID-19 on Nov. 16

Most Read