Person in lab coat testing blood

As the economic toll of the Covid-19 outbreak becomes increasingly clear, a new Senate committee report warns that Canada is not ready to cope with a second wave of infections.

The Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology released an interim report today on the federal response to the pandemic. The report found that seniors have been “hardest hit” by the outbreak and that the government is not yet prepared for a possible resurgence of infections.

According to the report, the committee heard during consultations that “Canada is ill-prepared for a possible second wave of infections.”

In particular, the committee was told that “better diagnostic testing and contact tracing are required for effective containment of new cases.”

The committee also heard that better quality data is needed to enable the government to create evidence-based policies to grapple with future outbreaks.

“A second wave of Covid-19 could coincide with the seasonal influenza, which typically starts in the fall,” the report noted.

The committee said it heard that governments, both federal and provincial, should “design and implement a more robust and effective influenza vaccination strategy with the goal of reducing the burden on the healthcare system.”

Additionally, it said governments should consider developing a vaccination program for an eventual Covid-19 vaccine “that addresses rising vaccine hesitancy among the population.”

Seniors, who have borne the brunt of the initial outbreak, would also be particularly at risk of a second wave, the report warned.

“While the Public Health Agency of Canada released interim guidelines for infection prevention and control in long-term care homes, the committee heard that the guidelines could not be fully applied,” it said. “Many long-term care homes, for example, do not have the facilities to isolate sick patients or to allow for physical distancing in dining areas. Residents have died as a result, underscoring the urgent need for action.”

Healthcare workers and other essential frontline workers have been particularly vulnerable, and remain at risk, the committee noted “largely due to a lack of personal protective equipment.”

On July 8, the federal government delivered a fiscal update, which revealed the significant damage to the economy and federal finances from the pandemic.

The economic and fiscal recovery is highly dependent on the future path of the pandemic, the government noted in its update.

“There are encouraging signs that Canada is bringing Covid-19 under control. However, the witnesses who appeared before our committee have shown us that there is still much more that can and should be done to protect our most vulnerable citizens,” said Senator Chantal Petitclerc, chair of the committee, in a statement. “These observations provide a first look at areas that need more attention.”