Canada’s Public Health Agency president resigns amid rising coronavirus cases

Tina Namiesniowski, the president of the Public Health Agency of Canada, has resigned leaving the department in charge of leading country’s response to the coronavirus without a leader, amid rising cases of the virus in some of Canada’s most populous provinces.

In a letter to staff released by Health Canada, Namiesniowski said she needed “to take a break” and “step aside so someone else can step up” to lead the public health agency tasked with coordinating Canada’s response to COVID-19. Namiesniowski was appointed to the job in May 2019.

Her resignation comes as caseloads of the virus have surged in Ontario, B.C. and Quebec and criticism about the federal government’s response to the virus in the early stages of the pandemic has mounted.

A spokesperson for Health Canada said, “a replacement will be announced next week.”

“This is a very difficult decision for me but I think it’s the right one,” Namiesniowski said. “You really need someone who will have the energy and the stamina to take the Agency and our response to the next level.

“Even though I might not have accomplished everything I would have liked to have done, I truly hope the foundation for change I’ve championed through our work on PHAC of the future will help serve as a road map moving forward.”

READ MORE: Canada adds 870 new cases, 6 deaths in last 24 hours

According to her LinkedIn profile, Namiesniowski worked as the executive vice-president of the Canada Border Services Agency and served as an assistant deputy minister at Agriculture Canada and Public Safety Canada.

“I will support the transition of a new President and then I am going to take some time to reconnect with my husband, kids and aging father and think about my own next steps,” she wrote. “I do want to remind everyone about how much of a toll this relentless pace can have on each of us and our loved ones so please try and look after yourselves and each other.”

PHAC, which Namiesniowski formally headed, faced criticism over a depleted national emergency stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE) and reports that the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN) – a federal pandemic early warning system — was shut down last year.

Namiesniowski said in her email Friday, “it is hard to believe that close to ten months has elapsed since the Agency picked up the initial GPHIN signal on December 31st, 2019, about a cluster of cases in Wuhan of an unknown respiratory illness,” but did not mention the ongoing controversy around GPHIN.

Last week, Health Minister Patty Hajdu ordered a review over the warning system matter and reports that officials working on it were silenced, just months before the global outbreak of the coronavirus.

Hajdu said in a statement that a “full and expeditious independent review” has been requested.

“We were concerned to learn of reports that GPHIN analysts felt that they were not able to proceed with their important work, and that some scientists didn’t feel fully empowered. That’s why we have ordered a full and expeditious independent review of GPHIN,” said Hajdu’s office in a statement.

“This independent review is an important step in restoring GPHIN and ensuring that it can continue its valuable contributions to public health in Canada and around the world.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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