Dear Minister Hajdu,
I am writing on behalf of HealthCareCAN, the national voice of Canada’s hospitals, health research institutes and healthcare organizations, to urge you and your government to adjust Canada’s testing protocols to screen for the new COVID-19 variants and develop a strong, Canada-wide monitoring strategy to detect cases of the new COVID-19 variants as they emerge. I recognize that you and your government are working tirelessly to deal with the unprecedented challenges Canada faces and commend you for all you have done to support Canadians. However, if swift action is not taken to curb the presence of COVID-19 variants, the situation in Canada will worsen, further straining our health system at a time when it is already reaching a breaking point.
Our members, which include hospitals, health research institutes, laboratories and health authorities, are deeply concerned about the impact on health system resources as these more easily transmittable COVID-19 strains become more prevalent. The time is now – before the system is even more overloaded than it currently is – to shift Canada’s approach to better identify and track cases of the new variants and shore up resources for a possible surge in individuals requiring hospitalization and critical care.
Canada must learn from the experience of the United Kingdom where, in just a matter of weeks, the B117 variant became the dominant strain. There are already several Canadian examples of cases of variants with no known link to travel, which means community transmission of these new strains is occurring in Canada. Modeling in Ontario released in early January shows that the B117 variant could dominate in the province by February. Waiting any longer before making changes to Canada’s testing and tracing protocols and its ability to monitor cases of the new strains would place Canada in a precarious situation – one where it may already be too late to adapt in a meaningful way to reduce cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
Our hospitals, long-term care homes and healthcare workers are overwhelmed and struggling to cope with current case numbers and hospitalizations. Both Ontario and Quebec have prepared triage protocols as their intensive care units are weeks away from surpassing capacity and physicians face having to make very difficult decisions as to who receives critical care and who does not. Current health system capacity cannot support even a slight increase in cases, let alone the explosion in cases that will occur if a more contagious variant becomes the dominant strain.
Canada must act now to limit the spread of the new variants before it is too late. With the collaboration of all levels of government, Canada must begin testing every sample for the new strains of COVID-19 and develop a nationwide monitoring and response strategy to detect cases of the variants as they emerge.
HealthCareCAN and several of our members are available to discuss solutions to address the uneasy state around the new COVID-19 variants and their impact to the health system.
Thank you for your kind consideration of my request.
President and CEO
cc: The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
The Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance
Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada
Dr. Stephen Lucas, Deputy Minister of Health Canada
Kathryn Nowers, Director of Policy, Office of the Minister of Health
Jonathan Mitchell, Vice-President, Research and Policy, HealthCareCAN
Bianca Carlone, Government Relations and Policy Analyst, HealthCareCAN
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