'No plan' for economy will work without more access to COVID-19 tests, vaccines: O'Toole

Canada will not see economic stability until there is wide access to rapid tests and vaccines for the novel coronavirus, Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole says.

O’Toole made the remarks during a press conference Sunday morning.

“There is no plan for the economy if we don’t have rapid testing and vaccines as swiftly as possible,” he told reporters.

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O’Toole’s comments come as the federal Liberal government prepares to release a fall economic update on Monday.

The government has not tabled a budget for this fiscal year, but in July delivered what it called a “fiscal snapshot” that estimated the deficit was heading for a record of $343.2 billion.

O’Toole said there can’t be a “full economy, a growing economy, people working, people being productive without the tools to keep that happening in a pandemic.

“Those two tools are rapid tests and a vaccine,” he said.

O’Toole said Canada is “months behind our allies” when it comes to the large-scale rollout and use of rapid COVID-19 tests.

Health Canada has approved more than three dozen different tests for COVID-19, but only six of them are “point-of-care” versions more commonly referred to as rapid tests.

Millions of rapid tests have been delivered to the provinces, however, health officials have been slow to utilize them as questions about best use and reliability remain unanswered.

O’Toole also said it appears as though Canada will be “months behind our allies on vaccines.”

“These are critical tools,” he said. “The vaccine is the hope we’re all looking for.”

Canada has signed contracts to secure 400 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, however, the federal government says only six million of those doses — enough to vaccinate three million people — will be in the country by early January for distribution once approved by Health Canada.

However, both the United States and Britain have said they expect to have millions of vaccine doses by next month and expect to have larger portions of their populations inoculated more quickly.

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O’Toole said Canadians are going to be “rightly frustrated” when other countries are “rolling out millions of doses” of COVID-19 vaccines before Canada.

“I hate to see us trailing,” O’Toole said. “I don’t compare ourselves to the worst response, I want Canada’s response to be the best, that’s why I want to see a plan and I want to see a plan for the economy — we need to get people working.”

O’Toole is not the only one who appears to be frustrated. In an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said it is “troubling” that only a small segment of the Canadian population could be vaccinated immediately.

Moe said the federal government communicated to the country’s premiers how many doses they would receive, adding that the first round of doses will likely treat about 100,000 people in Saskatchewan.

“We need to receive more and we need to receive it in a much more timely fashion,” he said.

Moe said Canada needs a “more ambitious procurement program for sure.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said Canada’s lack of domestic manufacturing capabilities for the highly sought-after coronavirus vaccines — several of which use brand new mRNA technology — means it will be slightly further back in the queue than countries that produce the vaccines domestically.

Still, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said on The West Block on Sunday that Canada is still positioned to be in the “top five” in the global queue for vaccines.

— With a file from the Canadian Press

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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