The COVID-19 pandemic will likely become an endemic virus, Canada’s chief public health officer said at a parliamentary committee meeting on Tuesday, as MPs questioned the government’s response to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
“I think many experts believe that so-called herd immunity may not be achievable with this virus because it undergoes constant evolution. So what you’re looking at is this endemic state where people will get reinfected over time as immunity wanes,” Dr. Theresa Tam said at the House of Commons’ health committee meeting.
“It will also be determined by the appearance of variants that may invade the immune system as well. So I think that the reality is going to be more like an endemic virus.”
Tam said there is a “global consensus” that Omicron causes less severe illness than its predecessor the Delta variant, but added that due to Omicron’s higher transmission rate, the few cases of infections with severe outcomes could also have great impact on the population.
Tam was joined by other senior health officials including federal Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos and Deputy Minister of Health Dr. Stephen Lucas at the House health committee meeting, where they were grilled by opposition MPs on failing to support the public health system.
Stephen Ellis, a Conservative MP from Nova Scotia, accused the Liberal government of “a failure of leadership” and lack of preparation for COVID-19, citing data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that before the outbreak of the pandemic, 91.6 percent of Canada’s acute care beds had been occupied, with only Israel and Ireland having worse rates.
The health minister did not respond directly when Ellis repeatedly asked how many of the 7,500 new physicians that the Liberal government promised to hire prior to the 2021 federal election have been added to the workforce.
Duclos instead reiterated that the government has provide $63 billion for the health care system during the pandemic.
This was Duclos’s first appearance before the House of Commons’ health committee since taking the federal position in fall 2021.
Conservative MP Luc Berthold also charged that Ottawa has been slow in the provision of rapid tests during the Omicron wave, to which Duclos responded by saying that the government is planning on delivering 140 million rapid tests to provinces by the end of January.
“Why wasn’t the government ready, Mr. Minister, when this wave started, when Canadians really need it?” Berthold asked.
“We have been through some really difficult months—the normalization of lockdowns—and for the federal government, that’s become a tool to face the challenges of the pandemic to the detriment of people.”