OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be under pressure today to detail how the federal government will help provinces massively scale up testing for COVID-19 as the country slowly begins to come back to life.
Trudeau reiterated Thursday evening his offer of federal help on testing and contact tracing during his weekly conference call with premiers — repeating an offer he first made a week ago and which the Prime Minister's Office says was well received.
Yet despite that offer, the provinces and territories combined are testing fewer than 30,000 Canadians every day — less than half the available testing capacity that chief public health officer Theresa Tam has said should be the target.
The lack of testing is particularly problematic in the two largest provinces, which account for some 80 per cent of the COVID-19 cases across the country.
Ontario has fallen far short of its goal of 16,000 tests per day, with the province completing 10,506 tests on Tuesday.
In Quebec, home to more than half Canada's COVID-19 deaths, 9,582 tests were completed on Monday, according to the latest figures.
Trudeau said Thursday that he and the premiers would talk later in the day "precisely about how we can scale up testing immediately in places where it's necessary, like in Ontario and Quebec, and be ready to scale up almost instantly in places where right now, the virus is pretty well under control, but any flare-ups need to be responded to extremely quickly."
Yet there was little precise information following the conference call about what the federal government is prepared to do, beyond what it is already doing.
The PMO said different provinces have different needs. Some need swabs and reagents to conduct testing, which the federal government is helping them to obtain, and others need staff to trace the recent contacts of people who test positive.
Tam told the House of Commons health committee earlier this week that the Public Health Agency of Canada has developed a roster of people available to help with contact tracing, including federal public servants.
Testing and contact tracing are considered essential to prevent a second wave of COVID-19 cases by identifying and isolating those infected by the disease and the people with whom they've come in contact.
The PMO said all first ministers agreed they need to seamlessly co-ordinate testing and tracing as more Canadians begin emerging from home confinement.
Last week, Ontario Premier Doug Ford talked about the need for a national framework for testing and tracing, leaving the impression that some sort of national guidelines or standards were in the offing.
But that doesn't seem to be in the cards, at least at the moment.
Rather, the PMO said Trudeau is signalling to premiers that the federal government considers ramped up testing and contact tracing to be an urgent priority and is willing to give them whatever help they need to make it happen.
He is expected to emphasize that message today at his daily update on the pandemic.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, chairman of the premiers' council, said Thursday that the federal government can help provinces to conduct contact tracing of individuals who travel from province to province and those who arrive from outside the country once international travel begins to pick up again.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 22, 2020.