THUNDER BAY – Health Minister Patty Hajdu says Ottawa will spend $4.28 billion to increase testing and contact tracing capacity, as well as the associated data management related to the spread of COVID-19.
The money is part of a $19.2-billion Safe Restart fund announced two weeks ago by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, that will enable public health officials across the country to conduct up to 200,000 tests per day.
Hajdu said a portion of the remainder of the money will be used to cover sick pay for workers unable to show up for work because of the virus or because they’re exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.
“This is about capacity, not targets,” Hajdu said Monday at a news conference held outside the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, where she once worked.
“We just want to make sure as a nation that we have the capacity to test as many people as we need to, depending on how this outbreak evolves. In fact, rapid testing allows for the ability to do rapid contact tracing and that is really critical to containing the virus, making sure people have the information they need to prevent the further spread to their loved ones.”
Asked why it’s taken four-and-half months to get to this point, Hajdu said Ottawa has injected billions into the coronavirus response, but this new agreement is a chance for the provinces and territories to get through the next six to eight months.
“This is not about rebuilding our economy post-pandemic. This is about making sure that at the provincial and territorial level, people have what they need to restart the economy in as safe a way as possible, and to address some of the gaps that became glaringly apparent very early on,” Hajdu said.
“I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – we’ve under-invested in public health for many, many decades. The challenge is we have a health crisis and people remember public health is important. And then the health crisis fades and then we de-invest in public health.”
It’s because of that cycle that things like data management systems, which may sound boring to the average Canadian, often aren’t in place when needed most.
In fact, Hajdu said, they may be the key to helping Canada emerge from the other side of the virus’ impact on the day-to-day lives of Canadians and Canadian businesses.
“Data has been a plague to us all – a second plague to us all,” Hajdu said.
“The inability to actually quickly understand what’s happening with an individual and how they’re connected to a larger outbreak, has been a really challenging aspect at managing this pandemic at all levels of government.”
Though short on how it will be rolled out, Thunder Bay District Health Unit medical officer of health Dr. Janet DeMille said it’s welcome news.
“I don’t have a lot of details of how that’s going to potentially impact us here. I am optimistic that they do understand the implications for trace and contact management for health units and are looking at supporting us in doing that.”