Canadian Medical Association issues 'urgent' call for unprecedented measures to fight pandemic

The Canadian Medical Association has issued a plea for a number of what it calls "unprecedented" measures to address rising COVID-19 case numbers in many provinces across the country. Among them, stricter public health measures, more national collaboration and sharing resources across provinces.

CMA urges national collaboration to address rising COVID-19 numbers

Registered nurse Jose Pasion tends to a patient in the intensive care unit (ICU) at Scarborough Health Network’s Centenary Hospital, in northeast Toronto, on Apr. 8, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has issued a plea for a number of what it calls "unprecedented" measures to address rising COVID-19 numbers in many provinces across the country.

In a news release issued today, the CMA said it wants to see a marshalling of national resources, national collaboration between provinces and territories and more restrictive public health measures.

"The CMA is calling for province-to-province collaboration and national leadership to address the scale and severity of the pandemic. Specifically, the CMA is recommending deployment of resources where they are most needed to save the most lives," the release reads.

"Any measures taken now will take time to have an impact given the lag from exposure to disease — we must act now."

The CMA said it also wants the federal government to change vaccine distribution to focus on areas where vaccines are needed more urgently. Vaccines currently are distributed to provinces based on population.

At a news conference today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would have to take up any changes in vaccine distribution with the provinces.

"We're happy to continue to work with the provinces on adjusting as the provinces see necessary," he said.

Nova Scotia Premier Iain Rankin said Friday that he opposes the proposal to change vaccine distribution. 

"Things can change very quickly in this province. We're working really hard to prevent a third wave, but we need to make sure that the vaccine rollout and the way that we structured it remains on track," he said.

Trudeau also acknowledged the call to relocate health care workers according to need.

"I know there's also been discussions about health care resources from other provinces turning towards Ontario," he said. "These are all the things we are working very, very hard on right now, to respond to the extremely difficult situation in Ontario."

The CMA also said that paid sick leave "is urgently required."

"We act as one country when crisis hits with wildfires, floods and other tragedies. This pandemic has reached a new level that requires a national response," CMA president Dr. Ann Collins said in the news release. "We must do everything needed to avoid making unbearable choices as to who lives if resources are not available." 

Experts in a number of provinces have warned that COVID-19 case numbers could continue to climb unless further public health measures are imposed in jurisdictions seeing surging caseloads, such as British Columbia and Ontario.

Ontario reported 4,812 new cases of COVID-19 today — a record high for a third straight day. Admissions to hospitals rose to 1,955, while the number of people being treated for COVID-related illnesses in intensive care increased to 701.

The CMA also called on provinces that have lower rates of COVID-19 transmission than Ontario and Quebec to impose stricter public health measures. It said those provinces need to do this to ensure they have the ability to support others.

"These are strong measures, but they are absolutely needed," Collins said. "We are one country, and it's time we started acting as one by deploying resources where they are most needed. If we can't achieve this through voluntary co-operation, then more and stronger measures might be needed." 

National co-ordination could be difficult, says doctor

A Montreal-based epidemiologist and cardiologist said shifting health resources between provinces could turn out to be harder than it sounds.

"It makes sense in theory. Whether we could make it work in practice remains to be seen," Dr. Christopher Labos told CBC News Network Monday.

"We don't have a health care system in this country — we have 14 health care systems in this country," he said, adding that issues could arise with respect to professional licensing across provinces.

He said that while some health care professionals might be able to move around the country in response to need, others might find it difficult.

"Logistically, you can't move people around the country like pieces on a chess board … If you were to ask somebody from Saskatchewan to move to Ontario, if they have family, if they have other responsibilities, that might be difficult for them to disentangle themselves from." he said.

"We have to realize that we have a chronically understaffed health care system in the best of times, so if we don't have more bench strength in the health care system in terms of our staffing, we won't be able to meet these types of emergencies when they come up in the future."

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