OTTAWA — The federal government is expected to announce today new measures aimed at mobilizing the country’s scientists and researchers in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Scientists around the globe are scrambling to come up with tests, treatments to lessen the severity of the disease and, ultimately, a vaccine to protect against the coronavirus that has killed almost 2,000 Canadians and almost 200,000 people worldwide.
Today’s measures bolster previous efforts by the Trudeau government to marshal Canada’s scientific community in the battle against COVID-19.
In mid-March, it committed $275 million for research, as part of the first emergency aid package.
That was supplemented later in the month with the creation of a new strategic innovation fund, which provided another $192 million to specific companies and research institutions working on the development of drugs and vaccines.
As well, the government has provided $52 million through national granting councils to almost 100 research teams across the country.
With several provinces beginning to talk cautiously about re-opening the economy, which has been virtually shut down since mid-March, the pressure is on to find reliable, rapid tests to determine who is infected with the virus and who has developed immunity to it.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe is poised to announce today a five-phase plan to re-open his province.
Public health experts say mass testing will be required to detect who is carrying the disease without showing symptoms, to prevent them spreading it to others and triggering a second surge in infections.
Canada is currently testing fewer than 20,000 people a day. Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Wednesday that 60,000 a day would be an initial target to aim for.
She also pointed out that reliable serology tests are needed to detect who has acquired an immune response to the virus. That will help determine who can safely return to work and when the population has developed “herd immunity.”
“Serologic testing offers the opportunity to get a handle on what the level of immunity may be in Canada,” Tam said.
“That’s definitely one of the key objectives. Our lab is working hard at validating the serologic tests that are being presented. Internationally we’re aware that some of them don’t work so we want to make sure the ones that we have actually are effective and can detect the antibody response in the Canadian population.”