Ottawa Orders Review of Pandemic Warning System After Unit Shut Down Prior to Crisis

Ottawa Orders Review of Pandemic Warning System After Unit Shut Down Prior to Crisis
A medical worker takes a swab sample from a staff member from the AOC computer monitor factory to be tested for the COVID-19 virus in Wuhan, China, on May 15, 2020. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)
Justina Wheale

Canada’s Public Health Minister has ordered an independent review after media reports that the federal health agency’s early warning unit meant to flag potential pandemics was shut down just months before the COVID-19 pandemic crisis hit.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu ordered an outside review after an investigation by the Globe and Mail published in July found that the federal pandemic early warning system, known as the Global Public Health Intelligence Network, was shut down in May 2019.

The specialists working in the group, who were trained to analyze global health threats,  were reassigned to other departments. The Globe article also said warnings from the scientists weren't properly sent up the chain of command.

At a press conference on Tuesday, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said the unit within the Public Health Agency has been reinstated and continues to function.

Tam said she doesn't want to pre-empt the findings of any report but will be looking closely at whatever recommendations are made.

She also said she received warnings about the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in China late last year, and that the information would have been passed on to provinces and territories.

Delays in Pandemic Prevention

There have been other reports of early warnings not resulting in action in Canada as well.

In early January, a specialized unit within the Canadian military's intelligence branch that receives reports from the Five Eyes Intelligence partners began producing warnings and analysis about the emergence of the virus in Wuhan.

Those assessments raised the alarm about the virus’s threat and claimed Chinese authorities knew the outbreak was out of control and that crucial information was being withheld from foreign governments and public health agencies, according to a CBC report.

Yet, Ottawa appeared not to hear or heed these warnings and refused to impose travel restrictions on China until mid-March, long after many other countries decided to do so. This move was praised by Beijing, while the regime slammed countries that restricted travel from China.

Canadian authorities also shipped 16 tonnes of personal protective equipment to China in early February, while health professionals later reported a shortage of PPE in Canada.

Asked why Canada wasn’t imposing restrictions on travel from China at the time, officials cited advice from the World Health Organization (WHO).

A number of world governments, including the United States, Japan, and Australia, have criticized or raised questions about WHO’s handling of the virus outbreak and the cozy relationship with its leadership and Beijing.

With files from The Canadian Press