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Public health pandemic 'alert' system didn't operate as intended for COVID-19: report

Last Updated Mar 20, 2021 at 3:22 pm PDT

Health Minister Patty Hajdu listens at a COVID-19 press conference in Ottawa on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Kawai

OTTAWA — An interim examination of why the federal government’s pandemic early warning system failed to send up a formal alert on COVID-19 has been released.

The audit was ordered by federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu after reports the Global Public Health Intelligence Network didn’t operate as intended at the onset of the pandemic.

The interim report concludes the news monitoring system did identify the outbreak of the pneumonia that would become COVID-19 on the night of Dec. 30, 2019, and included this information in a special report to Canadian public health officials the next day.

But the report notes that without sending up a formal alert, international partners that rely on Canada’s information were left in the dark.

The review says that prior to the pandemic, the alert system lacked standard operating procedures and senior managers didn’t fully understand the “purpose or audience” for alerts.

The panel will continue its review in the coming months by looking deeper into the context of how the system operates, which includes a high degree of staff turnover and a decline in the number of internal experts with public health credentials.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 20, 2021.

The Canadian Press