Tam says she will pay close attention to review of pandemic-warning system

OTTAWA — Canada's chief public health officer says she won't get ahead of an independent review of the early-warning unit in her agency that's meant to flag potential pandemics.

Dr. Theresa Tam says the unit within the Public Health Agency of Canada continues to function.

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The government ordered an outside review of the global health unit after The Globe and Mail newspaper reported that people in the unit had been reassigned just prior to the COVID-19 crisis.

The report also said warnings from scientists weren't properly sent up the chain of command.

Tam says she doesn't want to pre-empt the findings of any report, but will be looking closely at whatever recommendations come.

Tam also says that she received warnings about the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in China late last year, and that the information would have been passed on to provinces and territories.

"Like any other system, we have to look at lessons learned and look at its place as we move ahead," Tam said during a midday press conference on Parliament Hill.

"The purpose of an independent review is so that whoever the reviewers are can do their jobs, so pre-empting what their findings are, I don't think is very helpful at this time."

She said the purpose of the review is to strengthen the global early-warning system, and whatever Canada can contribute would be helpful.

Tam's deputy, Dr. Howard Njoo, says officials at the agency relied on multiple sources of information, including from their international counterparts.

The international public health community was picking up signals about an usual outbreak in Wuhan, China around the new year.

"It's not just any single system or information source alone that we rely on," Njoo said. "It's really, I think, an integrated system throughout the world."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 8, 2020.

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