Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says a federal coronavirus testing strategy won’t work in Canada.
He was questioned on Thursday during a daily briefing with reporters about why the government isn’t working to create such a strategy to guide testing protocols across the country, given urging from the World Health Organization that testing and identifying cases will be key to mitigating the pandemic.
“Provinces face very different situations from one end of the country to another,” Trudeau said, speaking in French.
“Therefore, a federal program that would be applied everywhere would not be the right solution.”
Trudeau said that the goal will continue to be to have the federal government bring provinces together and support them, but that decisions on testing will be left with the jurisdictions directly responsible.
“We are there to support provinces, to support them with resources, material, to help them develop better plans, to have more testing in order to support the reopening of the economy while yet keeping Canadians safe and sound, and we will continue to work to bring out improvement in all provinces.”
Right now, each province has its own criteria for COVID-19 testing, with varying daily testing volumes. As of Thursday, Canada had conducted more than a million tests, resulting in nearly 65,000 positives.
As of early May, Ontario reported it had ramped up testing for people in long-term care homes and other “congregate” settings such as group homes and shelters. But on Wednesday, the province fell short of its target of 16,000 tests per day for the second day in a row.
British Columbia is recommending testing for anyone with symptoms. Alberta has expanded its testing to anyone with symptoms, as well as asymptomatic close contacts of positive cases and asymptomatic workers and residents anywhere with an outbreak.
Quebec has said it will expand screening to include anyone in the general public who displays symptoms, as the province moves towards easing restrictions.
Montreal, the epicentre of the province’s outbreak, has said it will increase capacity to test symptomatic people in Montreal North beginning May 1.
On May 1, Manitoba expanded testing to include anyone with symptoms.
The WHO has previously said that while physical distancing is important, increasing testing is also key. In mid-March, WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called testing, isolation and contact tracing the “backbone” of any COVID-19 response.
“The most effective way to prevent infections and save lives is breaking the chains of transmission,” he said at the time. Doing that means you test and isolate, to figure out who is infected — countries should be able to test every suspected case, he added.
“We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test, test,” he said.
— With files by The Canadian Press, Global News reporters Andrew Russell, Leslie Young, and Maryam Shah
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