Over three months into the COVID-19 pandemic, cases are slowly subsiding across Canada and provinces have begun phased approaches to re-opening their economies. However, just as Canadians are trying to catch their breath from the turmoil that the past three months have brought to their families, communities, and jobs – talk of a second wave is already rumbling. Many Canadian health officials, politicians and even the Prime Minister have declared that a second wave is inevitable – leaving Canadians wondering what is next.
As seen since the beginning of the pandemic, provinces have been at the forefront of implementing public health measures to keep Canadians safe. Governments at all levels have learned a lot from this pandemic, so a second wave will likely unfold with each provincial jurisdiction determining how best to approach the virus. While Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, has already declared that the province will not go into the same lockdown, other provinces have yet to detail how they intend to respond to a second wave. While provincial restrictions are part of the equation, many Canadians are still wondering if we are truly prepared for a second wave.
The federal government’s financial readiness, social supports, and the ability to quickly test for and trace the disease are indicative of the country’s preparedness. The fiscal and social impacts in the first save of COVID have been front-and-centre at House of Commons and Senate Committees’, and programs that were created in this wave could be repurposed should a second wave follow. It’s also understood that more testing needs to take place, and contact tracing needs to be both accessible and enforced across the country. While the government is working to increase the number of tests and how quickly results are provided, the challenges with contact tracing – the process of tracking down those who may have been exposed to a newly diagnosed COVID-19 patient – is more complex. Many countries have initiated contact tracing applications that are easily accessible on the average smartphone. However, privacy concerns have been a critical feature of conversations around contact tracing in North America. Additionally, mass adoption of contact tracing is needed for it to be truly effective, which is realistically difficult to enforce.
On the equipment side of pandemic readiness, Canada, like many other countries, entered this crisis underprepared. Canadian Premiers and Health Officials pointed to the lack of both testing and PPE available to explain the early growth in case numbers. Acquiring PPE has been a major challenge for Canadian governments during the pandemic, as many countries have been outbidding each other and competing for access to an extremely limited supply of masks, respirators, and other essential items.
These issues were key challenges during the response to the first wave of the virus, and this will likely be the case during the expected second wave. The federal government worked alongside provinces to quickly implement the $1 billion COVID-19 Response Fund, which largely included funding for testing and PPE for essential Canadian workers. As provinces are slowly beginning to re-open, more PPE is needed – and will need to be available beyond essential workers. Recently, the federal government announced a $14 billion Safe Restart Agreement, an investment that will support provinces in keeping Canadians safe as they reopen, including a large expansion of available PPE. Another measure has been the creation of the COVID-19 Supply Council, which continues to advise the government on how to build supply chains capable of handling Canada’s demands now and in the future, including a second wave.
With these learnings, some failures, new federal and provincial measures, more data and expanded research – a foundation was created to hopefully better-equip Canada with the tools to safely suppress a second wave.