Canada – Why Didn’t Our Governments Buy Local COVID Testing Units In Early July?

Why didn’t our Governments buy local Covid Testing Units in Early July?

For the last 30 years or so, my academic colleagues and I have been writing to Canadian and Chinese politicians in an attempt to raise awareness about the impending inevitability of a global pandemic. We knew that, eventually, our current state of infection, fear, and restrictions would come to be realized; it was simply a matter of time. That being said, here we are. And so, since the beginning of this particular pandemic, my company and I have been approaching governments at all levels to offer assistance in their policy development, problem-solving, and decision-making in regards to the pandemic. Full disclosure: to date, none of our bids have been accepted.

As the Ethics Chair for the Canadian Mental Health Association, I have been asked to write a series of white papers on how to critically think about Covid-19. In knowing that all pandemics follow the same pattern of behaviour – that is, a series of testing, isolation, developing antivirals, and eventually developing a vaccine (or TIAV), it became quite obvious early on that until a viable and effective vaccine is ready, testing becomes everyone’s best defence in keeping the infection rates down while allowing economies to continue. This has been demonstrated very well in countries like Taiwan, Korea, Viet Nam, and Singapore.

And so a great deal of my focus concentrated on what I imagined governments at both the provincial and federal levels would be most concerned about: approving and implementing the quickest and most accurate tests available – what are commonly called PCR (or polymerase chain reaction) mobile testing units. In Canada, the first such company out of the gate with such tests was Spartan Bioscience in Ottawa. Although they were the first to receive approval from Health Canada back in mid-April of this year, within weeks, Spartan had to recall all of their 5,500 tests that had been shipped nationally over concerns about the proprietary swab used in the test.

The next company to show promise in the production of mobile PCR point-of-care tests was Precision Biomonitoring from my hometown of Guelph, Ontario. On May 11th, I spoke to the CEO, Dr. Mario Thomas, about his company’s testing units. At that time, he was just waiting for the green light from Health Canada. On June 28th, I touched base with him again. He stated that approval from Health Canada was “imminent”. On July 7th, he contacted me to say that his company had just received the go ahead from Health Canada. This was great news. When I asked him how many units would be going out and to whom, he replied: “Many to workplaces to protect workers and operations sustainability.” When I asked him about government involvement, he stated that the province had shown some interest but he had not heard back from them at that time.

I began emailing my MPP and my MP to find out when they would be purchasing such units, and then getting them to the most needed places such as retirement homes, airports, border crossings, supply chains, and especially, to essential workers and schools. Based on their responses, I soon realized that nobody was doing anything about acquiring and implementing these newly-approved and available tests. After continuously emailing and calling Premier Doug Ford, Provincial Health Minister Christine Elliott, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams, Associate Chief Officer of Health Barbara Yaffe, Provincial Minister of Long Term Care Merilee Fullerton, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Federal Minister of Health Patty Hajdu, I have, to date, received a total of 0 responses.

And then, on September 29th, the country is informed that the Federal Liberal Party had signed a deal to buy up to 7.9 million point-of-care tests from Abbott, an American company. This was confusing and potentially distressing. I immediately called the CEO of Precision Biomonitoring, Mario Thomas, to find out how many of his units had been purchased and utilized to date. He informed me that he had Canadian customers in most provinces from coast to coast in areas such as mining, construction, fisheries, and even the movie industry. When I asked him how many units the provincial and federal governments had purchased, his response was a disillusioning: “None.” He also stated that: “Private companies have stepped up and the demand is so high, we cannot keep up.”

This raises two very important questions:

  1. Why has the federal government just purchased 7.9 million tests from a US manufacturer (Abbott) on September 29th when they could have purchased them from a Canadian company (Precision Biomonitoring) three months earlier on July 7th? Such a purchase could have both supported a Canadian company while simultaneously combating the spread of the virus and saving untold lives in anticipation of an inevitable second wave. It would have been a clear win-win for all vested interests.
  2. Wouldn’t it have been in the best interests of all Canadians to have such testing units in place from early July? They could have been placed at key locations e.g. airports, retirement homes, supply chains, schools, bars, restaurants, etc., in conjunction with slowing the growth of infection rates of specific ‘hot zones’ which would have allowed for more businesses to stay open during the second wave.

At this point, all I’m asking for is some clarity. I think all Canadians deserve the right to some honest answers to these questions. And that’s a fair request.

Christopher DiCarlo is a philosopher, educator, and author. He often teaches in the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Toronto (in Scarborough) and the Life Institute at Ryerson University in Toronto. He is also a lifetime member of Humanist Canada and an Expert Advisor for the Centre for Inquiry Canada.

…Why has the federal government just purchased 7.9 million tests from a US manufacturer (Abbott) on September 29th when they could have purchased them from a Canadian company (Precision Biomonitoring) three months earlier on July 7th? Such a purchase could have both supported a Canadian company while simultaneously combating the spread of the virus and saving untold lives in anticipation of an inevitable second wave. It would have been a clear win-win for all vested interests….

Good question.  I wonder what Patty would say? Inquiring minds would like to know.

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