O'Toole accuses Trudeau of 'normalizing lockdowns' by failing to provide enough rapid tests, PPE

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Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole addresses a news conference on the federal government’s COVID-19 response in Ottawa on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole addresses a news conference on the federal government’s COVID-19 response in Ottawa on Thursday, Jan. 6, 2022. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole today blamed the return of pandemic lockdowns across the country on what he called the federal government's failure to provide adequate supplies of rapid tests and personal protective equipment.

"The federal government has not delivered on key tools to help Canadians manage the risks of a pandemic in a population that is now largely fully vaccinated," O'Toole told a press conference.

"In fact, the action and inaction by the Trudeau government is normalizing lockdowns and restrictions as the primary tool to fight the latest COVID-19 variant."

The Conservative leader said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised Canadians at the outset of the pandemic nearly two years ago that he would ensure adequate supplies of critical equipment to fight the pandemic.

Despite a series of early supply shortages of personal protective equipment such as masks and face shields, lessons have not been learned, he added.

The Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU), representing 200,000 nurses and student nurses across the country, said Thursday that many front line health care workers still haven't been provided with a "fit-tested" N95 mask.

"It's maddening that we are still fighting for N95s at this stage of the pandemic," CFNU president Linda Silas said in a media statement. "Nurses are still going into work not knowing whether they'll be denied the PPE they need to stay safe, the PPE they need to keep their patients safe.

"Nurses don't come to work to be martyrs. They come to work to care for patients. Governments can and must provide them with the tools and equipment they need to care for patients while also caring for themselves."

140M rapid tests promised for this month

O'Toole said he will take steps to reconvene the House of Commons health committee to discuss shortages of PPE and rapid tests.

Earlier this week, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said the federal government delivered 85 million rapid tests to the provinces and territories in the months leading up to December and pushed out another 35 million tests to the regions last month.

The federal government said it is shipping an additional 140 million rapid tests to the provinces and territories this month.

The push for rapid tests comes as many regions scale back polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing — the gold standard of COVID testing — due to an inability to keep up with the record number of new cases brought on by the Omricon variant.

Chris Mulligan/CBC
Chris Mulligan/CBC

PCR tests are mostly offered through assessment centres, hospitals and other health care settings and require lab analysis, while rapid tests can be done in just a few minutes from home.

The situation has changed dramatically since early last year, when CBC News reported that millions of rapid tests were sitting unused and gathering dust in provincial storerooms.

At the time, B.C. Premier John Horgan told reporters that his province's reluctance to use rapid tests extensively was tied to reports that they were producing high numbers of false results.

Imposing lockdowns and other pandemic restrictions is the responsibility of provincial and municipal governments across the country. The federal government has no say over when such restrictions are introduced.

Take the temperature down on vaccination, says O'Toole

O'Toole brushed away questions about whether there should be stronger vaccine mandate measures to encourage more Canadians to get the shot. He accused the Liberals of politicizing vaccination to the country's detriment.

"We have to deal with the reality of the fact that there will be a small number of unvaccinated," O'Toole said. "I don't think shaming and causing division is the way to address hesitancy. That's Mr. Trudeau's approach."

O'Toole encouraged all Canadians to get vaccinated if they are able, and to seek professional advice if they still have doubts.

"That is the way that we have to get more people vaccinated. That is, by taking the temperature down, not dividing our population even more on an issue of health," he said.

On Wednesday, Trudeau told reporters that Canadians are growing more "angry" and "frustrated" with people who still refuse to get vaccinated.

"That front line health worker who's giving you your first dose of the vaccine, even now in January 2022, will be immensely pleased to be able to give you that first dose of vaccine, even today," Trudeau said. "Because they'd much rather be giving you an injection of vaccine than intubating you in an ICU."

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