Members from three federal opposition parties want an emergency meeting by the end of this week to press the government on the need for “surge” healthcare resources and its plan to respond to increasing Omicron cases.
In a letter to the Liberal chair of the House of Commons health committee, members from the Conservatives, the Bloc Quebecois and NDP wrote that they want to meet before Jan. 14 in order to invite Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, and other officials, to face questions.
Specifically, the focus of the questions would be on “recent COVID-19 developments.”
The letter notes the members want to press the government about the need for surge healthcare resources for provinces, which are struggling amid the explosion of Omicron cases. They also expressed concern about the recent advice around how long a person should quarantine if they get COVID-19.
They want answers on whether the government has procurement strategies for any “variant-specific” mRNA vaccines that might be created, as well as COVID-19 therapeutic drugs, and, finally, the availability of rapid tests, N95 masks, and domestic vaccine production.
The push comes as the country battles a continued surge of the highly infectious Omicron variant, which is straining healthcare systems.
Unvaccinated people make up a disproportionate number of those in intensive care units, and the virulence of the variant is forcing significant numbers of doctors and nurses to isolate, leaving hospitals short-staffed while demand for care rises.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has frequently called on the government to “accommodate” those who choose to remain unvaccinated by ramping up access to personal protective equipment and rapid tests.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has also emphasized the need for a healthcare hiring “blitz” to help alleviate some of the pressure on frontline workers, as well as free rapid tests and easier access to boosters.
Duclos vowed last week that the government would send 140 million rapid tests to the provinces in January alone, a jump from the 120 million that have been sent to date during the pandemic.
The surge in cases though has had some provinces shifting their quarantine requirements, in order to blunt the effect of staff shortages.
Quebec declared at the end of December that the province had “no choice” but to allow health-care staff who test positive for COVID-19 to keep working while infected.
Ontario, Alberta., B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and N.B. have cut their quarantine requirements, which followed controversial advice from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that quarantines could drop to five days from the previous 10-day rule.
“This is a balancing of the risks compared with the need to protect your critical infrastructure,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, in a press conference on Jan. 5.
“Even with five days of quarantine, contagiousness is possible after that.”
The World Health Organization cautioned last week that while the Omicron variant appears to produce less severe outcomes than the Delta variant, that “does not mean it should be categorized as mild.”