Not too late for Canada to fight a 3rd wave of COVID-19, says health minister
Country on track to vaccinate everyone who wants a shot by the end of Sept. says Patty Hajdu
Even as COVID case numbers in some provinces rise, Health Minister Patty Hajdu says it's not too late for Canadians to do everything they can to flatten a full-blown third wave in the pandemic.
"But of course, in many jurisdictions, we are seeing rising cases and we know that it takes a lot of work when cases rise to exponential levels that we've seen in previous waves," Hajdu told As It Happens host Carol Off on Thursday.
Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table said Tuesday the province has entered a third wave fuelled by variants of concern.
At the same time, public health agencies across the country are working to vaccinate Canadians and try to lower cases, especially as those more contagious variants take hold.
Here is part of their conversation.
We spoke with Alex Wong, a doctor in Regina, about the situation there. As you know, [a] majority of these new cases, very large number of new cases are variants of concern. It's not the good old fashioned COVID, it's now the variants. And I asked him. 'Why so many?' He says, 'We don't know why.' I hear that so many times when I do interviews that we don't know why this is happening, we don't have the data, we don't have the tracing. Why don't we know?
Well, I mean, that's a complicated question. I think, first of all, because science takes time and COVID-19 is a new virus. And so research is ongoing every single day. And I have to tell you, I have the privilege of working with incredible researchers at Health Canada and the Public Health Agency [of Canada] and indeed all around the country who have stepped in to try and answer some of these really challenging questions. But the short answer is the research continues to evolve. We do know that the variant first found in the U.K. is more infectious than the sort of standard, garden variety COVID-19. And we've seen that … it's taken over in many other countries as well.
But if we had better tracing, if we were doing the testing and tracing and have been doing that for some time now, could we know more?
I think it's not just about testing and sequencing the positive cases, but it's also really understanding the nature of outbreaks, and why do outbreaks occur. And provinces and territories, as you know, collect data and share some of that with the Government of Canada, but at the provincial level, to really understand what conditions create the propensity for these outbreaks I think is really important.
And we do know more about that. We know that crowded spaces, that congregate living, that workplaces where people are working very closely together, that certain settings where … there's not there's not great ventilation and people are having to work very closely together, those are the kinds of settings that create additional risk for COVID outbreaks. I think there's a lot of work that we can do together with provinces and territories and indeed as individuals to reduce our risk.
So the provinces are responsible for this and they're making decisions about what opens, what closes, what happens, based on data that they don't really have, right?
Well, I don't want to unilaterally say they don't have that data; provinces and territories collect a lot of data and they collect a lot of information about where outbreaks are likely to happen. And I think we have national data as well that's really starting to drill into what creates additional risk for outbreaks. But I think the next step then is that we need to act on that data. We need to make sure that we are putting into place better protections for workers and some provinces are taking steps with, for example, additional screening and monitoring of workplaces, especially workplaces that have seen outbreaks.
I look at, in the Toronto area, the Amazon outbreak and the work that the ministry of labour, the Ontario Ministry of Labour is doing to really screen workplaces. That's the kind of stuff that we're going to have to do as we move forward.
The one question everybody asks, I said, 'What do you want me to ask the minister?' They said, 'When am I going to get my vaccine?' That's all they want to know.... I mean, the vaccines are starting to arrive. What's the latest?
It is a good news story for Canadians. And … week over week, we'll be getting more and more vaccines. In fact, I think almost two million next week and then [an] additional million week after week, after that. And so what I say to people is, when your time comes, please go and get vaccinated.
Keep your eye on your local district health unit. They will be publishing schedules all across the country. It's different, but the provinces have been working really efficiently with public health to make sure that people have access to vaccines when it becomes their time. The prime minister has made the commitment that anyone who wants to be vaccinated will have the opportunity to do so by the end of September. And let's hope it's sooner than that, but that we are on track to meet that target.
Does it change anything that the United States would release these doses?
I think any access, again, that we have, is a good news story for Canadians. And so we're going to be very grateful to work with the United States on issues of vaccine access, but also on issues of how we better integrate our border management. This has been a very big challenge, as you know, over the last year. And I think integrating our approach at the border so that we can have safe international travel between the United States and Canada is another item that's very high on our agenda.
And that would mean some kind of a passport, is that right?
It may mean a strengthened commitment to screening and testing on both sides; it may mean a way to indicate vaccination. And of course, those conversations will begin as soon as I have an opportunity to meet with the new [U.S.] secretary of health.
Written by Andrea Bellemare and produced by Kevin Robertson. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.