Experts warn Ontario is not prepared for a ‘pathogenic’ pandemic

An omicron flu pandemic in Ontario could get beyond the province’s borders and spread at a disastrous rate with an over-reliance on vaccines and health professionals’ caution with the current vaccines, top experts are warning.

The province is already funding a pandemic recovery program and has the infrastructure in place to manage a pandemic, with a “call-to-action,” says Dr. Georges Gaudreault, a gastroenterologist and head of the recent Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Toronto.

But the question is whether the province is prepared for the reaction of the public, stresses Dr. Gaudreault.

“It would need social mobilization and mass mobilizations of help to deal with the severe illness resulting from such a pandemic,” he says.

“(Everywhere) people would be in shock and emotional shock and don’t understand the health problems caused by an omicron influenza epidemic.”

The province has already taken precautions.

Related Image Expand / Contract July 29, 2018: An Ontario Provincial Police officer keeps an eye on media as he cleans up outside a Toronto community centre following an outbreak of a new type of Ebola in the city. (The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette)

“The warning is what we would foresee in the short term, which we can’t predict,” says Dr. Anthony Pollock, interim commissioner of the provincial public health agency, adding that he expects Ontario to spend nearly $50 million on responses to a pandemic.

“What we have done is to place in place everything that we need to enable us to deal with a pandemic. That is a fraction of what we would have to invest because there would be a different reaction of the whole society.”

A pandemic, experts say, is an event in which an infectious agent is circulating in a public environment.

A recent CDC report outlines the activity of nine known or suspected influenza viruses in 22 countries.

Related Image Expand / Contract July 29, 2018: An Ontario Provincial Police officer keeps an eye on media as he cleans up outside a Toronto community centre following an outbreak of a new type of Ebola in the city. (The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette)

“As far as an influenza pandemic goes, it is a very difficult thing to respond to,” says Daniel Gotlin, professor and chair of the Department of Medicine at Boston University and former director of the federal Centers for Disease Control’s Influenza Division.

“It’s like the most miserable version of what we experience when we get the flu. So being able to predict it well enough to deploy proper and sufficient resources, it’s not easy. I really think we need to ask about the cultural, political, economic implications of a pandemic in Ontario.”

“I think we have a pandemic pre-seasoned response, and we have a pandemic preparedness program, which has now been established,” says Dr. Andrew Poisson, medical health officer with the Toronto Public Health Authority.

“We’re well in place to deal with any public health emergency and flu as well.”

Pollock says governments aren’t prepared for the potential impact of a pandemic.

“Public health labs don’t have that sort of ability to analyze specimens for hundreds of diseases that you can actually release immediately,” he says.

“There is very little communication around pandemic-type events from the top. Where we need to be very active is to get together an all-star team of emergency managers, experts, professors, professors on the field and get a plan in place as quickly as possible.

“(For example), where do we go for treatment? In this era of the Internet and social media and cellphones, people will go where there is people in need of help.”

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