SARS vs. COVID-19: What we didn't learn the last time
This week, as Ontario records its 1 millionth confirmed case of COVID-19, a senior researcher into the 2003 SARS outbreak says recommendations made to blunt the impact of a future pandemic were not followed.
Four years after SARS killed 44 Canadians and 774 people worldwide, Justice Archie Campbell wrote that the outbreak “taught us lessons that can help us redeem our failures.”
“If we do not learn the lessons to be taken from SARS, however, and if we do not make present governments fix the problems that remain, we will pay a terrible price in the face of future outbreaks of virulent disease.”
For Mario Possamai, a senior advisor to Campbell, who oversaw the report’s creation, the failure of public health officials across the country to heed that warning led to the devastating effects of COVID-19.
“Justice Campbell really laid out a blueprint for tackling a pandemic, like the one we’ve been suffering, in a manner that really was able to address and mitigate the risk in an effective manner,” Possamai told CTV News Toronto.
“And the fact that we’ve blown it, in many ways, I think would have been heartbreaking for him.”
Campbell died the same year the report was released.
In the past 22 months, Ontario has seen 1,001,455 lab confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 11,004 deaths.
Possamai believes those numbers could have been much lower, had the province, and federal public health officials, listened to the key message of the 2007 report: the precautionary principal.
“In the event of scientific uncertainty, like there was for COVID-19 early on, you don’t wait for certainty, you err on the side of caution and you err in a manner that protects health-care workers, workers in general, and the public. We didn’t do that,” Possamai said.
Possamai points to the early days of the pandemic, when he says there were already signs that COVID-19 was an airborne disease, a point he says was ignored at the time.
Public health officials in Canada have shied away from using the term “airborne” to describe how the novel coronavirus is spread. Instead, choosing to focus on preventing the spread of the virus via droplets through mask wearing.
Only in more recent months have provinces and local public health units started to publicly acknowledge that, in light of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, aerosols are likely playing a part in how the disease spreads.
A similar debate took place when SARS made its way into Ontario.
A woman stops to read a sign announcing that the SARS clinic at Women's College Hospital is closed in Toronto on Thursday April 24, 2003. (CP PHOTO/Frank Gunn)
According to the World Health Organization, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, was a virus from an animal reservoir that spread to other animals and first infected humans in China in 2002.
The report notes that there was no consensus on whether the virus was transmitted by large droplets or through airborne particles. However, the report recommended that public health decisions not be driven by the “scientific dogma of yesterday or even the scientific dogma of today.”
“We should be driven by the precautionary principle that reasonable steps to reduce risk should not await scientific certainty,” the report read.
The 2006 SARS Commission also found that many health-care workers contracted the virus after going to another unit to help out, a trend that was seen at the beginning of the pandemic in the province’s hospitals and long-term care homes and continues to this day with nearly 50 per cent of hospital staff across Ontario working part-time.
On top of ignoring the precautionary principle, Possamai said that the amount of available personal protective equipment made available to Canadians at the start of COVID-19 was insufficient.
Dr. David Naylor, co-chair of Canada's National COVID-19 Immunity Task Force and professor of medicine at University of Toronto, chaired the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health and said that their report (separate from the 2006 SARS Commission) also made clear the importance of having and adequate supply of PPE.
“The bigger issue, that I think is being pinpointed, is the one around stockpiles, which really were depleted [at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic] and was a basic principle we had identified in the 2003 report,” Naylor told CTV News Toronto. “We had to be table topping. We had to be on top of contingencies and possibilities. We had to have PPE stockpiles. So that was a bit of a disappointment to put it very gently.”
In a statement to CTV News Toronto, Ontario's Ministry of Health said, "Given the global scarcity of personal protective equipment during the initial stages of the pandemic, the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Government and Consumer Services and partners mobilized quickly to acquire and supply PPE for workers in the health system and other critical sectors."
"We have adapted as the pandemic has evolved and the province currently has a sufficient stockpile and continues to build up its domestic supply," the statement read.
In May of last year, a report by Auditor General Karen Hogan found that at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) was not adequately prepared to respond to the surging demand for PPE, which was a result of decades-long issues with managing Canada’s stockpile of emergency supplies.
Since then, Ottawa has pledged to revisit its supply management and said it would work to use up items before they expire and PHAC also agreed to make a series of changes “within one year of the end of the pandemic.”
And while it appears as though the Omicron-fuelled wave of recent COVID-19 infections appears to be waning, Possamai said he wants to see those who have not followed the warnings of the past take some responsibility for their actions and lack of action.
“We need some accountability. The people who have dropped the ball need to be held accountable for this terrible tragedy,” Possamai said.
With files from Rahim Ladhani, Katherine DeClerq, and Rachel Aiello
A nurse is shown wearing protective clothing at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on March 17, 2003. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kevin Frayer
Toronto Top Stories
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
The decision by police to wait before confronting the gunman at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde was a failure with catastrophic consequences, experts say. When it was all over 19 students and two teachers were dead.
A Dene filmmaker based in Vancouver says he was "disappointed" and "close to tears" when security at the Cannes Film Festival blocked him from walking the red carpet while dressed in a pair of moccasins.
As Russia asserted progress in its goal of seizing the entirety of contested eastern Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin tried Saturday to shake European resolve to punish his country with sanctions and to keep supplying weapons that have supported Ukraine's defence.
The actions — or more notably, the inaction — of a school district police chief and other law enforcement officers have become the centre of the investigation into this week's shocking school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.
Around a hundred people gathered at noon Saturday at the empty Vancouver home where Chelsea Poorman’s remains were found late last month to show their support for her family's call for answers and justice.
Canada and Finland won semifinal games Saturday to set up a third straight gold-medal showdown between the teams at the IIHF world hockey championship.
Riot police fired tear gas and pepper spray at Liverpool supporters forced to endure lengthy waits to get into the Champions League final amid logistical chaos and an attempt by UEFA and French authorities to blame overcrowding at turnstiles on people trying to access the stadium with fake tickets on Saturday.
One week after a severe wind and thunderstorm swept through Ontario and Quebec, just over 48,000 homes in the two provinces were still without power on Saturday.
The devastating storm in southern Ontario and Quebec last weekend damaged thousands of hydro poles across the two provinces. CTVNews.ca gives a rundown of where utility companies get their hydro poles from, as well as the climate challenges in the grid infrastructure.
Is it unconstitutional to make someone pay to get a legal document translated into French? One of Montreal's top lawyers thinks so, and pointed out two other things from Bill 96 that he thinks the courts would most easily find fault with.
Quebec announced special financial assistance to cover food losses suffered by those using social assistance programs following power outages.
The CAQ wants to promote the idea that they are proud people; proud of themselves, proud to be Quebecers. It is the main message the party is choosing to deliver to the population four months before the election.
St. Aidan’s Anglican Church unveiled a new art installation Saturday, in anticipation for pride month
As the provincial election campaign winds down the bid to secure critical votes heats up, with two party leaders, Doug Ford and Andrea Horwath, making a stop in London on Sunday.
The Glen Cairn community and Glen Cairn School collected over 1300 boxes of mac and cheese to create a domino line that would then be donated to the London Food Bank
The Kitchener-Waterloo Dixieland Jazz Club held a rumpus New Orleans-style wake on Saturday, in remembrance of its long-time director Nancy Pauli. Pauli passed away in February at the age of 81.
No driver's license was needed for a group of high-schoolers driving their own electric vehicles through the University of Waterloo campus on Saturday.
From crayons to corks, car seats, bicycles and batteries, the second semi-annual Re: Purpose Fest took place in Guelph Saturday afternoon.
A small but passionate group gathered Saturday to protest the Ford government and autism therapy wait times outside PC MPP candidate Vic Fedeli's campaign office on McKeown Avenue.
The Sudbury Defeat Depression Walk/Run returned to Bell Park on Saturday, as the COVID-19 pandemic eases and normal events resume.
A long line of cars wrapped around the Humane Society's parking lot in North Bay Saturday morning as dozens of cats and dogs got microchipped.
NEW THIS MORNING
NEW THIS MORNING | Here's what you need to know about the storm cleanup in Ottawa
Hydro Ottawa is entering the "last phase" of restoring power to homes and businesses following a devastating storm over a week ago, with the goal to have the grid back on by tonight.
Hydro Ottawa says "we are close" to restoring power to the "bulk energy system" as crews enter "the last phase" of restoration efforts.
NEW THIS MORNING
NEW THIS MORNING | What you need to know about the return to school on Monday
Hydro Ottawa crews continued to make progress through the weekend restoring powering to thousands of customers across Ottawa.
When 96-year-old Frank Davis woke up Saturday morning from his home in London, Ont., he never expected to find himself grasping the bars of a motorcycle that had played such a crucial role in his life
A two-year hiatus is now over for the Windsor Optimist Youth Band. The group was reunited Saturday during an open recruitment and alumni day celebration.
Windsor Regional Hospital is postponing a number of non-emergency diagnostic imaging scans due to an international shortage of contrast dye.
A new autism centre in Barrie held its grand opening on Saturday.
A former PSW at a Roberta Place in Barrie is reflecting on his battle with COVID-19 one year later.
Provincial police say an 87-year old man from Springwater Township reported missing earlier this week has been found deceased.
Rough road to recovery for N.B. duty-free shop – still holding out hope border traffic will increase
A N.B. duty-free shop owner at the U.S.-Canada border says high fuel costs and lingering requirements at the border are hurting business.
Two special prosecutors tasked with taking on Nova Scotia's human trafficking cases are sharing some insight into what's currently happening in the province's courts.
Vinyl lovers packed a community centre in Riverview, N.B., Saturday in search of a hidden gem or the missing piece to their collection at the bi-annual Moncton Record Expo.
A spark on special teams gave the Calgary Stampeders the momentum they needed to beat the B.C. Lions 41-6 on Saturday.
Back on the track: Calgary high school athletes compete in city championships for first time since pandemic
More than 600 athletes from 29 schools competed Saturday in the first Calgary high school city championship competition since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
A group of volunteers spent their Saturday morning outfitting a Calgary home with new appliances, furniture and food for a family in need.
A building located on Mayfair Avenue is being declared a complete loss after a fire broke out Saturday morning.
In Manitoba, the average home price in April 2022 was around $372,000, which is up from April 2021, when the average price was around $328,000, according to Manitoba Real Estate Association.
It’s been nearly four months since the historic Kirkwood Block caught fire and was left in ruins, but it is now starting to be taken down.
A wave of resignations among Northern B.C. health-care workers – including half the doctors in the intensive care unit of the region’s biggest hospitals – is raising alarms among civic leaders already calling for an audit.
Volunteers in Vancouver are stepping their efforts as the city continues to see a rise in property crimes.
An emotional rally outside City Hall Saturday afternoon called for more permanent solutions to help keep Edmonton's Chinatown a vibrant community.
A slo pitch league in St. Albert is helping seniors stay active and have fun on the field.
A street in north Edmonton will bear the name of a Ukrainian dance company to honour their more than 50 years worth of contributions to the local arts and culture scene.