Canadian laboratories can now test 60,000 cases of COVID-19 per day. But do we need it?

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OTTAWA – We have supplies. We have laboratory capacity. Now it’s about using them to test COVID-19 in the best possible way, while provinces are loosening locks against coronaviruses, according to Canada’s top public health official.

Speaking on Parliament Hill, Dr. Theresa Tam said Thursday that Canada’s public health laboratories now have the capacity to perform 60,000 COVID-19 tests per day, more than double the daily average of more than 25,000 made in the past week.

Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, said that while the provinces still need to increase the number of tests they do, it may not be necessary to use full capacity daily country analysis. It’s best to continue using these tests for “the right people, in the right place, at the right time,” Tam said.

In this way, any new wave of infections can be detected and treated, as the health restrictions that have closed schools, businesses and public spaces across Canada are slowly being lifted in the coming days and weeks, he said. she declared.

“Testing remains a very important aspect of the next phase, as we want to move forward with caution. And if there is a clue of cases or clusters, the provinces will deal with them very, very quickly so that we don’t get any further escalation after calming the first wave, “said Tam.

“(The provinces) will have enough tests to detect any type of outbreak or circulation of the virus in the population. So this is the ultimate goal, “she said.

Experts from Canadian universities and the World Health Organization have stressed how essential testing is to any successful effort to fight the new coronavirus. Some also noted that several other countries have been able to increase their testing capabilities more quickly than Canada. Germany, for example, has reportedly successfully tested 900,000 people per week. It’s almost as much in one week as Canada tested it throughout the crisis.

Tam reported on Thursday that more than one million people have been tested across the country since the start of the pandemic.

According to the federal government’s daily summary of COVID-19 data, Ontario Premier Doug Ford expressed frustration over the level of testing in his province, which follows other jurisdictions. Quebec, the province with the most deaths and infections, has also fallen short of its daily screening goal so far, according to its senior health official.

But the national supply of necessary test components – reported as an obstacle to wider testing in late March – appears to be under discussion at the moment. The federal government received about 2 million swabs used on Wednesday to extract samples from people tested for the virus “beyond” what the provinces and local health authorities have ordered, the minister’s office said. of Anita Anand’s supply to the Star by email

The Public Health Agency of Canada has also obtained a regular, national supply of reagents, the chemicals used to extract the molecular code of the virus from samples taken. Last week, the government signed a contract with LuminUltra, a chemical manufacturer in New Brunswick, which will supply the agency with enough equipment for 500,000 tests per week until March 2021.

LuminUltra President and CEO Pat Whalen told The Star that the company had already delivered enough chemicals for 1.5 million tests and that the materials were being distributed by the federal health agency to the provinces and territories roughly in proportion to their population.

Whalen said 90 to 95 percent of the raw materials used by LuminUltra to make these chemicals already come from Canada, making new government supplies of these chemicals less vulnerable to global competition than personal protective equipment which is largely purchased from manufacturers in China.

Amir Attaran, a professor of law and epidemiology at the University of Ottawa, said test problems never really affected supplies. Countries like Germany had a central agency that established firm and clear test protocols as early as January, he said, while Canada’s federal health agency left much of the response to the provinces. and the territories.

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“There has been no guidance” to coordinate laboratory tests across the country, he said, adding that the lack of central control has also left the national health agency with data uneven on the pandemic in Canada as it must wait for the provinces to collect and share.

“We are organizationally incompetent, and everyone across the country has to reinvent the wheel because the Public Health Agency of Canada – which does not deserve its name – has never sought advice on this matter” , did he declare.

Erica Di Ruggiero, professor of health at the University of Toronto, said that Canada was less prepared for the pandemic than other countries, such as South Korea, which quickly imposed extensive tests and systems to find the people potentially exposed to infection. “We may not have been as ready to test and speed up testing and focus on testing early and often,” she said.

Canada’s ability to maintain and expand testing capacity will be crucial to ensuring that the process of lifting restrictions to contain the spread does not trigger a new wave of infections, said Di Ruggiero.

Alex Ballingall



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