Former federal health minister Jane Philpott is urging “drastic action” as coronavirus cases explode across the country, and warning that while a vaccine may be on the horizon, Canadians must be prepared to wait as it gets rolled out to priority groups first.
In an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, Philpott said the spiking cases and the grim warnings offered by public health officials last week were a “sobering” reminder that Canadians and governments must do more to limit the spread of the virus.
“We are at the tipping point. People have to take drastic actions,” said Philpott, who is currently dean of the faculty of health sciences at Queen’s University.
“Those are hard decisions for governments to make but we’ve got to get this thing under control … I will not be one of those who pretends it’s easy for anybody who’s a policymaker in a leadership position across the country right now because they’re going to hear input from all sides.”
Ontario Premier Doug Ford last week announced he is moving Toronto and Peel Region into lockdown effective Monday because of the dangerous level of COVID-19 cases in the communities.
Provinces like B.C., Alberta and Manitoba are also seeing spiking cases and have implemented a range of restrictions on businesses and activities, and implemented mask-wearing rules.
Even in the territories, the virus is spreading — an alarming prospect given the unique challenges of accessing health care and effective physical distancing in isolated communities with inadequate housing.
Nunavut went into lockdown across the territory last week, with the measures set to last two weeks as officials there fight to prevent the virus from spreading.
“That is a choice that we have made here to stop the spread of COVID because we have underlying issues here that make our population very vulnerable,” said Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq.
“If it takes a foothold in the community, it can spread because you may not know you have COVID and you may be spreading it. And that’s one of the fears we’ve always had.
“We’ve always predicted that when COVID came here that there’s a chance that there could be exponential growth, and that has happened in one community, in our view.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday pleaded with Canadians to stay home and limit their contacts only to members of their household, unless they have to leave for essential business.
“If you were planning to see friends this weekend — maybe don’t. If there was a birthday party or a gathering for dinner you were thinking about doing, don’t do it,” Trudeau said.
“We’re in a moment right now where even with all the sacrifices I know Canadians have been making over these past 10 months, we are now going to have to really tighten up once again.”
That came after chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam warned that the country is “not on a good trajectory,” with current levels of gatherings and interactions likely to lead to 20,000 cases per day by the end of December.
Philpott echoed comments by Tam and Trudeau that Canadians are being asked to make difficult sacrifices in order to get the virus under control, but that patience is crucial as the world waits for a vaccine. Even after one begins to be rolled out, many will still have to wait.
“It’s going to be difficult because we will not be able to get enough for everyone immediately,” she said, citing the need to give the vaccine to front-line health workers and vulnerable, older Canadians first.
“It’s going to require patience and a real attitude of looking out for one another,” she said.
“As we address those vulnerable populations and public health measures, we will gradually start to find our way forward in this.”