Mr. Speaker, I would like to focus my remarks on pandemic planning and communications. I want to preface my remarks by stating that without the Canadian pandemic influenza plan, adopted in 2006, our current goals would not be attainable. This includes ensuring access by December to a vaccine for all Canadians who need and want one. It includes ensuring that every level of government, medical professionals and scientific experts are involved and collaborate along the way so the right decisions are made based on the best medical evidence.
The position of the WHO with regard to a global pandemic has always been it is a question of when, not if. All countries are urged to develop or update their own plans for dealing with influenza. Canada's pandemic plan, developed and adopted by the federal government together with the provinces and territories, has been invaluable in responding to the current H1N1 outbreak. It has helped all governments respond at all levels, from the public health officials to local planners to first responders.
Among other elements, this plan provides a framework to guide the actions of all levels of government for prevention, preparedness and response and implementation activities. In adopting the plan, the federal government also took a number of important steps to strengthen pandemic readiness. We increased surveillance and monitoring of influenza outbreaks to detect cases and clusters of severe or emerging respiratory infections and to effectively prevent and contain their spread.
In addition, national case definitions and standardized laboratory tests and protocols were developed to ensure consistent approaches to diagnosing, managing and reporting cases of severe respiratory infection.
Budget 2006 provided $1 billion over five years, that is from 2006 to 2011, to further improve Canada's pandemic preparedness; $600 million to be allocated to departments and agencies for a variety of pandemic preparedness activities; and $400 million to be set aside as a contingency to be assessed if a pandemic were to occur. This money was used to strengthen federal capacity in seven major areas: vaccines and antivirals, surge capacity, prevention and early warning, emergency preparedness, critical science and regulation, risk communications, and federal-provincial-territorial and international collaboration.
The Public Health Agency of Canada received $384 million over five years to strengthen federal human public health capacity to prepare and respond to the threat of avian and pandemic influenza in several areas: vaccine development capacity and purchase of antivirals and an early warning surveillance in collaboration with the WHO.
In addition, Health Canada received $15.5 million to address public health emergency planning for first nation communities and for regulatory work on vaccines and antivirals.
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research also received funding of $21.5 million. This continues to support over 140 pandemic and influenza-related projects that contribute to managing the current influenza outbreak. This funding was a significant investment that showed foresight, leadership and commitment to the health and well-being of all Canadians.
It is because of this investment that Canada has been on the leading edge of the global response. In fact, other countries have commented on how well Canada has been responding.
Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, specifically commended Canada for all its efforts. I think Canadians would agree that given the circumstances, we are well prepared on all levels and have responded based on this planning, acting in co-operation and collaboration with the provinces and the territories, following the best medical evidence available at the time.
This government knows how important it is not only to respond but to communicate with Canadians during a pandemic. Inevitably the public will have concerns, fears and many questions about it. We place great value in ensuring all Canadians have the right information to make decisions for their families and for their loved ones.
One of our key responsibilities is to make sure Canadians have reliable, up to date and comprehensive information on H1N1, how to protect themselves and how to manage during the outbreak. Right from the beginning, the Government of Canada has been up front, transparent and diligent in sharing what we knew, and as we learned more about this new virus, sharing that new information as well.
We are learning more about H1N1 every day. We continue to strive to share what we know with Canadians so that they see us as a trusted source of information. We know where Canadians are looking for this information and we are responding to their needs.
If we look at the traffic on the Public Health Agency of Canada website, there were a total of 4.1 million visits to the site between April 24 and November 1. On the 1-800 O Canada information line, a total of 24,247 calls have been received since September 24, nearly all of them from the general public.
On October 13, the Public Health Agency of Canada launched its H1N1 preparedness guide. It is extremely popular among Canadians. To date, 390,000 guides have been ordered via the 1-800 O Canada number, 26,000 copies have been downloaded from our website at www.fightflu.ca, and 650,000 copies have been distributed to 6,550 Canada Post offices. Already a reprint of two million copies is being done this week and distributed to Service Canada and Canada Post.
The launch of the H1N1 preparedness guide was an opportunity for the Minister of Health and Canada's Chief Public Health Officer to meet with people all across the country, including people living in remote and isolated communities, to talk about what the Government of Canada is doing to protect the health of all Canadians during the pandemic.
There is a huge amount of interest and the Government of Canada is keeping up with demand by providing factual, relevant and timely information on this virus. In particular, Canadians want information on the symptoms of this flu and what to do if a loved one falls sick. This information is included in our preparedness guide, on our website, in our marketing campaign and in all our many communications vehicles.
Last Tuesday, after the vaccination clinics had started across the country, we saw a huge increase in visits to the fightflu.ca website that we manage at the Public Health Agency on behalf of the provinces and territories. The all-time high previously was 600,000 visits. We received more than three times that number of visits on Tuesday.
Not only are large numbers of Canadians visiting the site, they are spending more time on these pages, which means they are reading the information and they are going deeper to find additional information. There is also ample evidence that Canadians want to get vaccinated and we are working with all our partners to make sure that they do just that. Our outreach strategy is working, and thanks to our comprehensive approach to collaboration, we are prepared for what may come this winter.
This large-scale and comprehensive approach to informing Canadians is unprecedented in Canadian history. Our extensive preparation and close collaboration with the provinces, territories and public health authorities have enabled us to provide Canadians with a constant flow of clear, factual information to help them deal with this public health emergency. Our pandemic plan is the culmination of an extensive dialogue in collaboration with provincial and territorial public health authorities, health care workers, scientific experts and academics.
It is this foresight and preparation that has enabled Canada to respond as quickly and as effectively as it has to the H1N1 virus. It is the years of comprehensive planning with all our partners that has made our country a global leader before and during this flu pandemic.