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Trudeau defends Canada's early response to COVID-19 but admits room for improvement

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Friday, June 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says there are ways to improve Canada’s early pandemic alert and response systems, but insists Canada’s top public health officials did start building a national response to COVID-19 very early on.

Trudeau says he welcomes a report the government commissioned reviewing Canada’s Global Public Health Intelligence Network, known as GPHIN, which was published Monday.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu ordered the review last year after concerns some Public Health Agency of Canada scientists raised concerns that early warnings about COVID-19 were ignored.

The three-member review team led by former national security adviser Margaret Bloodworth says GPHIN could not have alerted Canadian officials to the existence of unexplained cases of pneumonia in China any earlier than it did.

But they found there is much room to improve how the public health agency and other government departments use that information to ready the country for a possible pandemic.

Trudeau says there are “always things we could have, should have done better” and the plan is to find those things and fix them before the next public health threat appears.

“As early as the beginning of January, Dr. Theresa Tam was meeting with her counterparts across the provinces to talk about concerns on this novel coronavirus that was appearing in Wuhan,” Trudeau said.

“… We will certainly move forward on improving our whole range of systems so that in the future, governments will be even better positioned to get through these pandemics than we were.”

As of Monday, more than 50 per cent of eligible Canadians – at least 12 years old and up – have had their second shot.