COVID-19 is unlikely to be completely eliminated, but it could be domesticated, Canada’s director of public health said Monday.

Canada expects a potentially massive increase in cases in the coming weeks, driven by the new Omicron variant that is already spreading through communities, said Dr. Theresa Tam.

While COVID-19 could be with us for many years, Tam is optimistic that the pandemic could end in the foreseeable future.

“Every pandemic runs its course,” he told reporters at a press conference on Monday.

“What we are seeing is the transition from this state of urgent response to a crisis to one in which the virus is more predictable.”

Tam anticipates a “bumpy ride” this winter, but Canadians can get through it with increased vaccination, proper testing, public health measures and better treatments for the virus, he said.

“I think all of that points to what remains an optimistic outlook for next year.”

Meanwhile, Tam has urged the federal government to make fundamental changes so that the country is better equipped to handle current and future health threats.

The COVID-19 pandemic was a wake-up call to the need for a “public health renewal” in Canada, he said.

“Simply put, we were not prepared to face a public health emergency of the magnitude of COVID-19,” Tam said at a news conference.

“Each #pandemic runs its course,” Tam assures the public in front of #OmicronVariant. #CDNPoli # Covid19

The call is not new, Tam acknowledged, noting that his predecessors have been making the same pleas since 2008.

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“Already depleted prior to the pandemic, the public health workforce is overloaded and may not have the capacity to counter the next emergency,” Tam wrote in his annual report, released Monday in the House of Commons.

“There are still unacceptable delays in obtaining the correct data to inform public health decision-making. Inequalities persist throughout society and key social and economic policies initiated during COVID-19 may not be sustained. These vulnerabilities could weaken Canada’s resilience to future health threats. “

He also fears that the recovery from the pandemic will focus solely on the demands of the health care system, which could overshadow the need to strengthen public health.

Strengthening public health means improving Canada’s data collection and surveillance, he wrote.

Tam says gaps in Canada’s ability to collect data on the pandemic hampered the country’s response.

“This fragmentation, coupled with outdated technology, has especially pronounced consequences during health emergencies when access to data for real-time decision making is paramount,” he wrote.

Federal, provincial and territorial governments are working on a nationwide data strategy, but the timelines are not fast enough, Tam said.

The government has tried and failed to improve data collection by health authorities in the provinces and territories for decades.

In 2004, Canada tried to implement a health data platform called Panorama, which included a consistent approach to tracking vaccines in anticipation of future pandemics.

The expert advisory group in charge of leading Canada’s latest health data review said Panorama failed after eight years and more than $ 130 million in federal funding due to unclear accountability and a lack of prioritization and trust among stakeholders. partners.

“All I can say is that we have to try really good one more time,” said Tam.

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Governments made short-term progress during the pandemic, but data collection is still spotty, Tam added.

His deputy, Dr. Howard Njoo, said that improving data systems may be a matter of harnessing the political will garnered during the pandemic.

The public health workforce also needs reinforcement, with enough surge capacity to rapidly expand the ranks in an emergency.

In addition, Tam warned the government against reducing public health funding once the emergency is over, as governments often do, which could put Canada at a disadvantage at the onset of the next crisis.

“My ambition is to build a future in which public health is seen as essential to our daily lives,” said Tam.

One estimate suggests that public health spending represents just under 6 percent of total health spending in Canada, he said.

“It’s not enough when you think about the fact that keeping our population healthy is as important as it is for treatment,” he said.

Tam called for a clearer public health mandate, so everyone knows which providers to comply with.

She hopes that this will inform the upcoming discussions between the provinces and territories on transfers of medical care and the necessary resources.

The Canadian Public Health Association has gone even further, suggesting federal legislation to harmonize public health roles and responsibilities across the country.

“Such legislation would require a national funding agreement that incorporates performance measures for the provision of public health services in accordance with national standards,” the association’s executive director, Ian Culbert, wrote in a statement Monday.

This Canadian Press report was first published on December 13, 2021.

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