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Federal review into shutdown of pandemic warning system months before COVID-19 crisis

Last Updated Sep 8, 2020 at 8:28 am PDT

Minister of Health Patty Hajdu listens during a press conference on COVID-19 in West Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Friday, March 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Summary

An independent review is being launched into the shut down of the Global Public Health Intelligence Network

The special surveillance and research unit tracks health issues that could pose a global risk

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu asked for a quick review so the government can fix any problems

OTTAWA – An independent review is being launched into the shutdown of Canada’s early warning system for pandemics, after concerns have been raised that some scientists tasked with keeping an eye on international health issues were effectively silenced about a year before COVID-19 hit.

The review will look into the decision regarding the special surveillance and research unit that tracks health issues that could pose a global risk.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu tells the Globe and Mail the probe will look into the decision to shutter the Global Public Health Intelligence Network in late 2018 and early 2019, and the reassignment of its team of doctors and researchers. The shut down of the network effectively muted the efforts of a unit that could have been important in flagging the coronavirus as a problem in its early stages.

The team was moved to domestic projects that did not involve pandemic planning.

There are also complaints from scientists within the public health agency that their concerns or messages with vital information have not been properly taken up the chain of command.

Hajdu, who was not on the job at the time of the decision to shutdown the system, has asked for a quick review so the government can fix any problems. She hopes to get a report with recommendations in six months.

The government’s website, last updated on March 15. 2017, says the GPHIN’s goal is to “use leading-edge communications technology and automated processes on a real-time 24/7 basis complemented by human analysis to monitor media sources worldwide and provide organized, relevant information to users allowing them to respond to potential health threats in a timely manner.”