Canada needs to learn from the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says amid controversy surrounding government rapid test purchases.
Trudeau faced questions stemming from a Global News investigation that found a rapid test importer landed an estimated $2 billion in federal contracts in 2021 and 2022, despite giving regulators incomplete data about its product’s accuracy.
“During the pandemic, we were doing everything we could in unprecedented ways to get as many different ways of keeping Canadians safe as we possibly could, whether it was on rapid tests, whether it was on procurement of PPE, whether it was on contracts for vaccines, and getting the vaccines needed to make sure that Canadians got through this pandemic,” Trudeau told reporters in Toronto on Thursday.
“There’s no doubt (there’s) lots of lessons to learn about things that worked really well, about things that we probably won’t be doing again in the next pandemic when it comes. But every step of the way through the pandemic, it was all hands-on deck with every different way we could do to try and make sure we were saving as many lives as possible, and getting our economy back on its feet as quickly as possible.”
A year-long investigation into federal procurement revealed that BTNX, a small rapid test supplier based outside Toronto, deleted dozens of specimens, or samples, from a study it submitted to Health Canada. That evaluation showed how well the company’s test detected COVID-19.
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Read more here about how Global News’ investigation unfolded.
The deletions made BTNX’s test appear more reliable and sensitive than it really was, according to researchers Global News consulted.
The device could detect the virus in users who were the most contagious, but results from evaluation programs run by leading regulators indicate BTNX’s test was much less dependable in all other cases.
This apparent flaw meant the test kit was more likely to produce false-negative results which, many experts said, put Canadian lives at risk. Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada bought 404 million tests from BTNX, and became ubiquitous during the pandemic.
BTNX told Global News that it did not offer Health Canada or Canadians inaccurate information about its test.
”We have at all times operated with integrity and transparency, and have manufactured and distributed our COVID-19 rapid tests in accordance with Health Canada and international standards,” BTNX’s lawyer, Richard Dearden of Gowling WLP (Canada), wrote on the company’s behalf.
Trudeau didn’t specifically address Global News’ report when asked about it, but said there are several lessons Canada will need to learn from the pandemic.
“Part of coming through the acute phase of this pandemic is learning about what worked well, what worked less well, making sure that next time, if there is a next time, we are ready for it,” Trudeau said.
“So much of what Canada was able to do during this pandemic (that was) better and faster than some of our peer countries was related to the experiences we’d had in 2003 during the SARS crisis … where learning about how to deal with these things and do better informed why Canada did better through the pandemic than many other countries. But there’s lots more to learn, and we will be following up on all the lessons we need to learn.”
— with files from Global News’ Patti Sonntag
© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.