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Trudeau offering provinces, territories help to ‘scale up’ testing, contact tracing

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today the federal government is willing to help the provinces and territories increase their testing and contact tracing capabilities — two factors seen as vital to Canada’s pandemic recovery.

The topic is expected to dominate the premiers’ weekly call with Trudeau later this evening.

“We have already seen significant ramp-ups of testing in places like Ontario and Quebec, where there is a need for even greater testing. Last week with the premiers, I laid out that offer, that the federal government could take it on,” Trudeau said during his daily press conference at Rideau Cottage.

“We’re going to continue discussing that tonight, and talk 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.”

The prime minister suggested Ottawa is willing to step up with financial support to get things going.

“That is the frame that we’re laying out. We don’t want logistical or financial limitations to keep anywhere in this country held back from doing all of the testing that is necessary,” he said.

“That’s what the federal government will be there for.”

Ontario reported 413 new cases of COVID-19 today and said its laboratories processed 10,506 tests for the novel coronavirus yesterday — falling short of its 16,000 per day target.

Premier Doug Ford expressed impatience again today with the province’s performance on testing to date and promised to improve the system.

“That’s what I want and I’m confident it’s going to happen,” he said during his daily briefing. “Believe me, it’s frustrating.”

Contact tracing

The president of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) told a parliamentary committee on Wednesday that the country isn’t prepared for a possible second wave of COVID-19 and disappointing testing numbers could leave Canadians vulnerable.

“We’re gambling by reopening,” Dr. Sandy Buchman told the Senate’s social affairs committee Wednesday.

“We need the contact tracing and serological testing in order to make decisions about what to do next … We’re scrambling. In my opinion, we’re not fully prepared for a second wave.”

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said public health officials know testing levels need to increase ahead of a second wave.

“Every level, as you’ve seen, at the very highest levels of government, people are seized with the need to increase laboratory capacity and testing,” she said Thursday.

“The key is to be able to jump on any increase in cases and contact tracing really fast.”

Contact tracing — the practice of tracking people who may have come in contact with an infected person in order to get them tested and isolated — is also expected to be raised during the premiers’ call tonight.

Many countries — and the province of Alberta — are using apps to do this work instead of relying on the work of human trackers, which can be a laborious process.

Quebec Premier François Legault said his government is looking to partner with Mila, a Montreal artificial intelligence research institute that has developed a mobile app to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

However, privacy experts have raised concerns about how much data the emerging technology collects and how it’s stored.

CBC

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