Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today to address the motion from the hon. member for Calgary Nose Hill. I share the member's deep concerns for Canadians during this unprecedented health crisis.
The emergence of COVID-19 has changed how we live, how we work and how we interact with friends and family. It has disrupted our lives and our communities in ways that we could not have conceived of a year ago.
As we emerged from the first wave, we saw cases go down over the summer, giving Canada a bit of a reprieve from this terrible virus. However, by fall, case counts began to increase, first in young people but then spreading to others, including, most alarming, to elderly people, who we know are most at risk of dying of COVID.
Most Canadians are worried, and many are frustrated to see our country experience, like so many others around the world, a resurgence of the disease. With winter approaching, Canadians are looking for information. They want the facts. They want to know what is happening and what we are going to do next, as leaders and as citizens, to protect one another.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of false information circulating on line and in social media. This amplifies the anxiety that many people are feeling right now. Earlier this week, Dr. Tam spoke about false information that is spreading faster than the virus.
This is a dangerous development. We have to work together to combat false information. That is why strong public health leadership is essential during a coronavirus pandemic, and why upholding confidence in our scientists and researchers, indeed in our experts, is so important. The Public Health Agency of Canada has consistently provided strong leadership since the first reports of COVID-19 started coming in late December. The agency has provided clear and direct information to Canadians about how they can protect their health and what they can do to protect the health of each other.
A critical part of the agency's work has been to bring together the public health officials across the country to coordinate our nation's response. Provinces and territories have stepped up measures to contain the spread, declaring states of emergency, closing schools and day cares, and providing other public supports. They have prepared their hospital systems, while continuing to deliver needed services, increasing intensive care capacity and making sure that they have the equipment on hand to deal with every situation. Governments at all levels are taking every step necessary to protect their residents.
Canada has demonstrated an organized and collaborative approach, with partners working together and supporting each other. In fact, this collaboration is exactly what Canadians need so that they can have the tools, the support, the information and the confidence to slow the spread of this virus.
Our government acted quickly to help Canadians during the first wave. We put more resources online to help them take care of their mental well-being. We also developed apps to inform Canadians and better combat the virus. In May, we confirmed a $240.5-million investment to work with the provinces and territories to provide better access to virtual health care services.
Virtual tools allow Canadians to engage safely with their regular health care providers via phone, text or video conference. They have also allowed patients to access specialist services during this time of uncertainty. Virtual tools have also provided access to trusted information, including the Canada COVID-19 mobile app, so that Canadians can understand and track their symptoms, and learn more about how to stay safe during the pandemic.
We also recognize that Canadians have been coping with the effects of COVID-19 from a mental health perspective, and they are facing different degrees of stress. That is why we launched Wellness Together Canada, a free online portal that offers virtual mental health, well-being and substance use supports to any Canadian who needs it.
Our government is working closely with provinces and territories, innovators and others to support the rapid expansion of virtual care services and to continue to make these tools available to Canadians and their families. This is a key component of our government's work to keep Canadians safe.
For months, scientific teams around the world have been racing to develop a vaccine against the COVID-19 disease. Some of the vaccine candidates are now in phase three clinical trials, the final stage of the process before their potential approval. Today I will give the House an update on our work to secure a COVID-19 vaccine for Canadians.
Health Canada has now received submissions for authorization of three vaccines, from Pfizer Canada and BioNTech SE, from Moderna, and from AstraZeneca in collaboration with the University of Oxford. The safety and effectiveness reviews of all of these vaccines have begun and will continue in real time as more data become available. These are very important steps on the path to a vaccine, and we expect to receive submissions from other manufacturers soon.
Health Canada has a rigorous and independent scientific review system in place to ensure that vaccines are safe and effective in preventing the disease they target. The decisions are always rooted in evidence and science. Health Canada will only authorize a vaccine after careful review if its benefits clearly outweigh any potential risks.
As the work continues on vaccines, we are also pursuing new tools, as quickly as they are invented, that will help us live safely with COVID-19. This includes fast and effective testing and screening. Health Canada is working full speed to improve rapid point-of-care diagnostic and monitoring tests based on nucleic acid and antigen technologies to meet Canadian testing needs, without compromising on standards for safety, effectiveness and quality.
As of October 21, Health Canada has authorized two antigen tests for the diagnostics of COVID-19, the Abbott Panbio and the Bd Veritor system. Antigen testing is one of the several emerging technologies that can be used to determine if a person is, in fact, infected with COVID-19. The test works by detecting specific proteins associated with the virus. Samples for these tests need to be collected using a nose swab and are designed to provide results within twenty minutes, and the test needs to be carried out by a health care professional. To date, Health Canada has authorized 41 COVID-19 testing devices for sale in Canada, and a complete list of authorized testing devices is available on Health Canada's website, along with many that are under review.
In addition to this, as Minister of Health I signed an interim order that has helped speed up access to COVID-19 test kits. This follows the interim order I signed in March, which allowed for the exceptional importation of products related to COVID-19. When drugs are not available, Health Canada now has a legal pathway to bring alternative supplies of drugs to the Canadian market. A similar approach is also in place for medical devices. Health Canada is also doing what it can to plan ahead so that our country is in the best possible position to access drugs to treat and prevent COVID-19 as they become available.
The health and safety of Canadians is the government's top priority. Before any test is authorized for use in Canada, it is subject to a thorough assessment by Health Canada's regulatory process to ensure that it is supported by sufficient evidence of safety, effectiveness and quality. We continue to engage with international regulators so that we can share this knowledge about new developments related to testing. We proactively approach companies that have received approvals for testing technologies from other regulators, and we invite those companies to apply for authorization in Canada.
We are also committed to global collaboration to end this pandemic, because this government knows that we will not see an end to COVID-19 unless we work together with all other countries. We are supporting multiple organizations that are working at unprecedented speed to develop candidate vaccines. Last month the government committed $440 million to the COVAX Facility. Of this amount $220 million will secure additional options for Canada to purchase doses of vaccine for Canadians. The other $220 million will finance the procurement of doses for low- and middle-income countries through the COVAX advance market commitment. We have also previously provided an initial contribution of $25 million to the COVAX Facility.
By joining this initiative, Canada is contributing funds toward collective efforts to develop a safe, effective and accessible COVID-19 vaccine for 172 participating economies across the world. This mechanism also allows Canada to secure additional options for vaccine doses for use here. This approach complements the bilateral arrangements that we have in place with vaccine manufacturers and diversifies our investment in potential opportunities, but supporting other countries in their fight against COVID-19 is an investment to protect Canada and Canadians because this virus truly knows no borders.
The government is also working to ensure that health care and front-line workers have the PPE, medical equipment and supplies that they require to do their jobs. We are doing this through collaborative procurement with the provinces and territories, building domestic production capacity and identifying potential alternatives and ways to extend product life. We have worked very rapidly to allocate PPE, medical equipment and supplies to the provinces and territories. I want to thank my colleagues, the ministers of health from across the country, for agreeing on an approach that is supported by all levels of government.
We sped up the process for manufacturing equipment in Canada to meet our current needs and to plan for the future.
Public Services and Procurement Canada is working directly with suppliers across the country to find the PPE and medical equipment needed to protect Canadians and health care workers.
During the first wave of the COVID-19 outbreak in Canada, long-term care facilities suffered a disproportionately high number of cases and, sadly, many deaths as well.
In early April, the Public Health Agency of Canada released evidence-informed guidance for long-term care homes to help resident seniors and health care workers in long-term care homes remain safe and healthy. The guidance provides recommendations that complement provincial and territorial public health efforts to prevent and control health care associated infections. It was developed with the National Advisory Committee on Infection Prevention and Control and endorsed by the pan-Canadian Special Advisory Committee.
Also in April, the Canadian Armed Forces received a request for assistance to help provide care to some of Canada's most vulnerable seniors in response to COVID-19. CAF deployed personnel in support of long-term care facilities across Quebec and in the Greater Toronto Area as part of Operation Laser.
Throughout these deployments, military personnel have worked closely with facility staff to help with day-to-day operations, support infection control and prevention, and provide general support and comfort wherever needed. I want to thank the serving members of CAF for their incredible generosity and kindness.
As we enter the second wave of the outbreak, though, it is incredibly important that we work together to ensure that seniors in long-term care homes are protected. That is why public health officials are closely monitoring COVID-19 cases in Canada and considering public health restrictions needed to protect the vulnerable. However, the epidemiology of COVID-19 is different across jurisdictions, which means that the approach across Canada will not be the same in every place and will need to be tailored to the unique challenges and contexts of the disease in each province and territory.
This summer, our government announced an agreement with provinces and territories that provides $19 billion to protect the health of Canadians, to get people safely back to work and to prepare for a resurgence. The safe restart agreement includes investments in priority areas for the next six to eight months, including supporting the most vulnerable, which includes seniors in long-term care facilities and nursing homes.
Canada has successfully enhanced public health surveillance for COVID-19 in very short order, strengthening our ability to monitor the number of cases, trends over time, severity of cases and demographics of cases. This information is shared with the public, with regular updates made on the canada.ca/covid-19/coronavirus website. I am very happy that all levels of government are working so closely to share this information and to provide timely evidence, which not only informs and supports the public health response but provides access to researchers and scientists who are studying COVID-19 in the Canadian context and providing very valuable evidence that can draw our future responses.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on needed improvements related to public health data systems in Canada, and this includes timeliness, completeness and granularity. Systemic and long-standing challenges affect Canada's health data system, including resources and capacity, IT infrastructure and clarity, and data governance. However, we need to make progress in these areas because federal, provincial and territorial jurisdictions not only have an obligation to gather and make good use of data but their citizens require that data in order to stay safe.
In addition, the $19 billion invested in the safe restart agreement, which includes funding to increase testing, contact tracing and data management, included monies to ensure the safety of seniors in long-term care homes by improving infectious disease protocols. Our goal is to ensure that Canada has the data intelligence needed to identify, prevent, monitor and respond to current and future health issues, protect the health of Canadians and support the economy.
Across Canada, all levels of government are pulling out the stops to help slow the spread of the virus, but, ultimately, individual decisions and choices also have a critical impact on public health and safety. The Government of Canada has a consistent message to Canadians: “Protect yourselves and others, wash your hands, practise social distancing, stay home when you are sick and wear a mask.” These things can help manage the spread of the virus. Also, download the COVID Alert app to help slow the spread.
I am so proud of Canadians and the sacrifices they have made to keep each other safe. We need to keep it up until it is safe again to slowly and carefully dial back the measures that we now have in place.
This is just a snapshot of what the government is doing to protect the health and safety of Canadians from COVID-19. As we can imagine, an incalculable amount of work is going on behind the scenes with our many partners across all orders of government and indeed with researchers and scientists who are generously donating their time and energy to help all Canadians. All of this work deepens our understanding of the virus every day. It gives us the scientific evidence and the data we need to inform and evolve our public health response to help with decision-making and planning at local, national and international levels.
We have learned about this virus over the past year. We have learned that if we relax too much or too soon, COVID-19 will certainly come back. We must continue with strong public health efforts to reduce the transmission of the virus and minimize its overall impact, including the social and economic impacts on Canadians. We must also plan and be ready for the future as there is still so much that we do not know about COVID-19. As the situation evolves, so too must our response.
Finally, it is unfortunate that this motion is specifically designed by the member for Calgary Nose Hill for the government to have such a challenge to respond. Our initial analysis of the motion indicates that the very officials who are working day and night on Canada's response will be removed from their immediate tasks. In fact, instead of working together to protect Canadians during this difficult time, the member would prefer to divert their focus to an unnecessary task that does not help Canadians in any way manage the months to come, this at a time when COVID-19 cases are surging across the country and posing unprecedented challenges on Canadians.
We need to stay focused on what matters now. We do not do the post-battle review in the middle of the fight. I can assure everyone that the Government of Canada will continue to do everything within its power and jurisdiction to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic to protect the health, safety and well-being of Canadians during these difficult and challenging times.