The federal COVID-19 testing program will determine the extent to which the coronavirus has actually spread

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OTTAWA – The Trudeau government committed more than $ 1 billion in COVID-19 research on Thursday, including a proposal for large-scale tests to better understand the coronavirus that led to the pandemic and to chart a course of recovery for the country.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that Canada needs research to respond to the pandemic in the best possible way.

“The better we understand this virus, its spread and its impact on different people, the better we can fight it and eventually defeat it,” he said.

Funding includes $ 40 million for viral sequencing to track the virus and its various strains, $ 23 million for vaccine research, $ 600 million for private sector trials of drug treatments and vaccines, $ 114 million to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for research into measures that could reduce the spread, and a multitude of small initiatives.

The government is also setting up an “immunity task force” which will conduct large-scale blood tests to determine how far the virus has spread.

Unlike current tests using nose and throat swabs, this larger test using blood samples will be able to track people who may have had the virus, but who had little or no symptoms and are now recovering. .

Dr. David Naylor, former dean of medicine and president of the University of Toronto, with extensive experience in epidemiology, who also chaired the national SARS advisory committee, is part of the task force.

He said there are probably a lot of people walking around who have fought the virus without even knowing they had it. These people are thought to be immune, and knowing how many are available can help the government make decisions about relaxing restrictions after the national lockdown in place to fight the pandemic.

“The level of background immunity gives us an idea of ​​how quickly we can move forward to relax some of these restrictions,” he said. “If a lot of people are immune, it will be an easier lock to lift.” If they are not, we must be much more careful. “

We have to have our game “A” in testing and plotting

Widespread blood tests will be needed to determine the prevalence of the virus. Although it may take months to get a full picture, the first results should give an idea of ​​the extent of the disease, said Naylor.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a little range in Canada. We cannot test all Canadians. We cannot test everyone everywhere, but we will test a sample across the country. “

Naylor said that even after the immunity tests were finished, there would still be a need to test quickly and find the sick people. According to him, once people are removed from social distance, it will be more difficult to test for virus outbreaks, which is why Canada must be ready to act quickly.

“Immunity tests are not the answer by themselves, you still have to have firefighting,” he said. “As soon as we are very active again, it will be much more difficult to fight against relapses and we must have our game” A “in the tests and the tracing.

Canada tested 620,000 people for the virus on Thursday and reported more than 41,500 cases, including 2,141 deaths.

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam.


Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press / File

Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, said that the country takes nose and throat swabs from 20,000 people a day, but hopes to increase that number to 60,000, which would be a good position for deal with future epidemics.

The final step in the fight against the virus will be a vaccine and several possible vaccines are under development. Trudeau’s announcement also included $ 29 million at a National Research Council facility in Montreal that could be used to produce large quantities of vaccine.

Trudeau said that Canada needs the capacity – within its borders – to mass produce vaccines.

“We will see the same types of pressures that we see around getting [personal protective equipment] all over the world to get vaccines, which is why part of the investments we are making today. ”

We will all have to ask tough questions about how it happened to this

The government is working with the provinces to produce millions of flu vaccines each year, but the most recent public health data shows that only 40% of Canadians bother getting the flu shot. The demand for a COVID-19 vaccine is likely to be much higher.

Trudeau also announced that the Canadian military will respond to calls from Quebec and Ontario to help deal with staff shortages and other problems in long-term care homes that have been particularly affected by the virus, but he warned that more needed to be done.

“It is not a long-term solution. In Canada, we should not have soldiers who take care of the elderly, ”he said. “We will all have to ask tough questions about how it happened. We will all have to do more to overcome this terrible situation. “

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