Joel Harden MPP / Député, Ottawa Centre

Government of Ontario

As lab capacity runs short, NDP demands public health boost

Published on September 29, 2020

QUEEN’S PARK — The NDP is calling for urgent investment to expand public health lab capacity, as a leaked memo reveals that COVID-19 tests might be rationed province-wide due to a lack of lab capacity. 
“Time and time again, to save a buck, this government does the bare minimum, then has to scramble to catch up to the crisis,” said Joel Harden, NDP MPP for Ottawa Centre.   
“For weeks, testing centre lines have been ballooning to be hours long. Then Doug Ford let private pharmacies use the same labs. On top of that, Ford gave a big thumbs up to any for-profit corporations looking to make money off this crisis by charging hundreds of dollars per test, and letting their clients jump the queue at those same labs. All the while, Ford knew lab capacity wasn’t keeping up. But he was making cuts to public health before the pandemic began, and he just keeps underfunding it — leaving the province stuck chasing another crisis instead of preventing it.”
The memo was reported on by the Ottawa Citizen and the NDP has obtained a section of it. It says: “The province has made it clear that, until the lab system is able to adequately increase capacity, there needs to be a pause on any additional capacity added to testing; with temporary reductions needed to some areas.” The memo indicates that the “provincial team” has told the Ontario Health East Region to reduce overall swabs by 1,215 per day.
Ford is withholding $6.7 billion in funds marked for COVID-19 response — most of it transferred from the federal government to help with the pandemic. Meanwhile, the backlog of tests reached an all-time high of 65,000 last weekend, and pleas from public health units for more staff and funding have been denied by Ford. 
“Their current so-called ‘plan’ is not working,” said Harden.
“Moms and dads are waiting in line with crying little ones for hours. Classes and even entire schools have been sent home. The virus has found its way back into nearly 45 incredibly vulnerable long-term care homes already. 
“Ford has been choosing not to take action, and not to invest in public health, and Ontarians are paying the price. It’s time to make a different choice – and invest in people and public health before the second wave gets any further out of control.”