The arrival of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in 2020 has raised awareness about serious deficiencies in Canada’s public health apparatus. Even while other countries were implementing protective measures to address the epidemic spread of the virus, Canadian health officials maintained that the domestic risk was low. Since then, flaws in the risk assessment process and lack of integration of surveillance information, insufficient supplies of personal protective equipment, logistics for distributing laboratory supplies, capacity shortages, problems with data quality and sharing, and untested emergency plans, have left Canadians vulnerable. Notably absent were pre-existing communication plans informing citizens of necessary public health measures. That these problems existed before COVID-19 is on the public record. The immediate step is to address the deficiencies that have been identified. Canada’s disjointed responses to COVID-19 leads to the following recommendation: there is an urgent need for a biosecurity strategy focused on how different systems in the public health apparatus are supposed to function and interact in the prevention, preparation, detection and response to microbial risks. The report outlines the features the strategy should incorporate.
This thematic report is part of the Reimagining a Canadian National Security Strategy project. A special report by the project’s co-directors analyzes Canada’s new national security outlook and proposes a security strategy for Canada.