Politics

Public health officials taking stock of supplies, equipment to prepare for possible coronavirus pandemic

Canada's top public health officer says federal and provincial officials are now taking stock of the medical supplies and equipment they'd need to respond to a coronavirus pandemic — but the responsibility for ensuring those inventories are up to date lies with the provinces.
Workers disinfect subway trains against coronavirus in Tehran, Iran, in the early morning of Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020. (Sajjad Safari/IIPA/The Associated Press)

Canada's top public health officer says federal and provincial officials are now taking stock of the medical supplies and equipment they'd need to respond to a coronavirus pandemic — but the responsibility for ensuring those inventories are adequate lies with the provinces.

During a briefing call with reporters Thursday, Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said the Public Health Agency of Canada serves a national coordination role for planning and preparing for health emergencies, and can do bulk purchasing on the provinces' behalf. While there is a federal stockpile of some medical supplies, it's normally reserved for rare, "high-impact" biological or radiological events.

Tam said that in those cases, the federal government can top up provincial and territorial supplies in the event they run short.

"As a result of the changing landscape because of COVID-19, we are pulling together that kind of information right now," she said.

"Of course, we have to adapt to ... the evolution of the outbreak in order to fine-tune some of these estimates. But that's the kind of exercise that's being undertaken right now. But the granularity of the system's preparedness is, of course, left to the provinces and territories."

Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Tam noted that there are now more cases of COVID-19 — the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus — being reported outside China than inside the country where the outbreak started. About 50 countries are now affected — some with isolated travel-related cases and others with outbreaks of their own, such as South Korea, Italy and Iran.

Seven countries — Brazil, Georgia, Greece, Macedonia, Norway, Pakistan and Romania — have only recently reported cases for the first time, World Health Organization (WHO) director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at a daily briefing Thursday.

"This virus does not respect borders," he said.

No pandemic call by WHO

WHO has declared the epidemic a global health emergency but has not called it a pandemic.

To date, there have been 13 cases confirmed in Canada, but no reports of transmission through communities.

Tam said Canadian health authorities are in close contact with their counterparts in the U.S. — which only recently confirmed a case of the virus that does not appear to be linked to international travel.

The Trump administration has requested an additional $2.5 billion to respond to the coronavirus, even as the president expressed confidence there would not be a widespread outbreak in the U.S.

CBC News has asked if the federal government is earmarking extra funds for a response, but has not yet received an answer.

On Wednesday, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said it would be prudent for Canadians to prepare for a possible illness in their households by setting aside a week's supply of medicine and food.

Tam repeated that advice today, suggesting Canadians prepare by ensuring medication supplies and making back-up child care arrangements.

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