Minister of Health pushes back after scathing AG report on Ontario’s COVID response

By News Staff, The Canadian Press

Ontario Minister of Health Christine Elliott came out swinging in response to a scathing auditor general report that found the province’s COVID-19 response was hampered by “delays and confusion in decision-making.”

Elliott said the government has “factual concerns” about Bonnie Lysyk’s report. Most notably she disagreed with Lysyk’s finding that Ontario was slow to respond to the crisis. Elliott noted that the province was the first to close schools, and second to declare a state of emergency.

“Today’s auditor general report is a disappointment and, in many respects, a mischaracterization of the province’s pandemic response,” Elliott said Wednesday at Queen’s Park.

“No jurisdiction is perfect and we are certainly no exception but our job, in such an unprecedented crisis such as this one, is to make the best decisions we can with the best available information, and that we have done.”

Elliott did agree with the report’s finding that the province’s pandemic response has not been updated since 2013 — an oversight she blamed on the previous Liberal government.

In her report, Lysyk said the outdated provincial emergency plans played a role in slowing down the provincial response in the winter and spring, as did systemic issues such as a lack of laboratory surge capacity and old IT systems.

Lysyk also pointed to an increasingly cumbersome command structure, and one that was not led by public health expertise despite the creation and expansion of a provincial health command table that she says now involves more than 500 people.

As well, she found the province’s chief medical officer of health did not fully exercise his powers in responding to the pandemic, or issue directives to local health officials to ensure a consistent approach across regions.

The auditor general also raised concerns that lab testing, case management and contact tracing were not being conducted in a timely enough manner to limit the spread of the virus, noting that between January and August, all but one public health unit failed to meet the target of reporting test results within a day 60 per cent of the time.

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