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Coronavirus information
Coronavirus information
The Zero Canada Project provides resources to help you make the most of staying home.
Visit the hub

Flattening the curve is up to you. But it isn’t just up to you.

Canadians need to make the right decisions about social distancing and, for the most part, they are. But governments also have to make the right decisions. Some of those right government decisions should have been made months ago. There are others still waiting to be made.

The PPE shortage: “Hospitals are now at a critical juncture,” the Ontario Hospital Association said on Wednesday. “Many hospitals are running low on supply of personal protective equipment, particularly masks.” The OHA called on Ottawa and the provinces “to clearly and specifically inform hospitals on when new PPE supplies will be delivered.”

For weeks, health-care workers across the country have been delivering a similar message. As infection numbers rise and PPE stocks are drawn down, a fearful prediction is becoming reality.

The need to have a huge store of protective equipment, in the event of a pandemic, is not a recent discovery. It’s something governments were supposed to have planned for. Yet, planning was half-baked.

For example, Ontario purchased a massive quantity of gear more than a decade ago in anticipation of what we are now living, but a lot of the material was basically allowed to rot. Money to replenish expired stocks wasn’t spent. Neither did Ottawa keep a large enough stockpile.

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The federal government made a big PPE announcement on Tuesday. Ottawa is budgeting $1.5-billion to buy more of such things as ventilators, testing equipment and PPE. But when it will be delivered remains unclear, owing to the global spike in demand.

When it comes to PPE, a good timeline for acquiring the material would be over the next two weeks. A better timeline would have been to have already obtained it – two years ago.

Voters don’t complain about the money governments didn’t spend on things they didn’t know about. At least not until there’s an accident and it turns out somebody forget to renew the insurance.

As a result, doctors and nurses are being forced to MacGyver the problem, to try to stretch the life of what is supposed to be single-use gear. And researchers are studying whether disposable masks can be safely sterilized and reused. (The answer? Maybe, sometimes.)

The test shortage: You can’t fight what you can’t see, and Canada still can’t see the full extent of its outbreak. Some provinces, notably in Western Canada, were more ready than others. Ontario has lagged.

As with PPE, the resources should have been on hand. But in Ontario, the provincial public-health operation went into battle in a state of undress. It is going to cost lives.

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Nursing home outbreaks: Nursing homes are tight spaces containing people in poor health. It’s a perfect virus breeding ground. That’s long been known. Yet, sufficient protective measures were not taken early enough to train staff, equip them with PPE or close facilities off from outside contact.

As a result, much of Canada’s death toll has been in nursing homes. Quebec on Wednesday reported COVID-19 cases in more than 500 long-term care residences. That is what must not be allowed to happen in hospitals.

Border failures: If Canada’s governments execute on PPE procurement as poorly as Ottawa did on border screening, it will be trouble.

The Trudeau government has always been good at political “messaging,” but this present crisis is about more than ministers memorizing campaign talking points. It’s about execution. That’s what government is.

When the Trudeau government finally moved to issue isolation orders for returning travellers, its announced new policies, for some reason, were not put into effect at airports. People coming back from March break, some infected, were crowded into arrivals areas for customs processing, the better to infect other travellers, and then sent on their way.

Even now, flights continue to land with people who have the virus, and who are not being properly screened or quarantined. What’s more, there is still no system for bringing in and screening the temporary foreign workers Canada’s farms depend on, nor is there a system for screening the thousands of truckers crossing the border every day.

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Do your part to beat COVID-19. And demand that the people you elected do theirs.

In the interests of public health and safety, our coronavirus news articles are free for anyone to access. However, The Globe depends on subscription revenue to support our journalism. If you are able, please subscribe to globeandmail.com. If you are already a subscriber, thank you for your support.

Your subscription helps The Globe and Mail provide readers with critical news at a critical time. Thank you for your continued support. We also hope you will share important coronavirus news articles with your friends and family. In the interest of public health and safety, all our coronavirus news articles are free for anyone to access.

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