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New report: The Federal Response to COVID-19: Interim Observations

COVID-19: Possible second wave threatens vulnerable Canadians

Ottawa, July 9, 2020 – Health care workers have been at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19, Canada’s senior population has been the hardest hit and the country is not yet prepared to face a possible second wave, a Senate committee said in an interim report released Thursday.

The Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology has been studying the federal government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic with respect to vulnerable population groups, including seniors, health care workers, essential frontline workers, young people and people with mental health conditions. The committee’s work is far from complete; the committee released this interim report to provide preliminary observations on areas of the government’s response that would benefit from more attention.

Seniors have been particularly hard hit. While the Public Health Agency of Canada released interim guidelines for infection prevention and control in long-term care homes, the committee heard that the guidelines could not be fully applied: many long-term care homes, for example, do not have the facilities to isolate sick patients or to allow for physical distancing in dining areas. Residents have died as a result, underscoring the urgent need for action; committee witnesses offered several suggestions for more effective federal intervention.

Health care workers and essential frontline workers have been vulnerable to and remain at risk of infection, largely due to a lack of personal protective equipment. It has become clear that the National Emergency Strategic Stockpile was not well managed and did not contain enough protective equipment. Witnesses said the government should ensure the stockpile is regularly monitored and replenished.

The committee heard that Canada is ill-prepared for a possible second wave of infections; witnesses said that better diagnostic testing and contact tracing are required for effective containment of new cases. More and better data are needed so that the federal government can create evidence-based policies to keep Canadians safe.

Quick Facts

  • Temporary foreign workers are also vulnerable to the pandemic. These workers are essential to the agricultural sector; the committee heard that fewer workers are available this year, which could have significant consequences for the food supply. The workers themselves are often poorly paid and provided with low quality living conditions. The federal health minister described their situation as a “national disgrace” during her appearance before the committee.
  • Children and youth have been affected by the pandemic as well. School closures and physical distancing measures have kept them from close friends, and young people with the greatest needs have not been included in government programs. The committee heard that the pandemic is taking a toll on their physical and mental health.

  • The committee also heard from representatives of essential frontline workers and people with mental health conditions. It will continue its study by speaking with more vulnerable groups, including racialized communities and Indigenous peoples. The role of charities and non-profit organizations, as well as that of scientists and researchers, will also be explored.


“There are encouraging signs that Canada is bringing COVID-19 under control. However, the witnesses who appeared before our committee have shown us that there is still much more that can and should be done to protect our most vulnerable citizens. These observations provide a first look at areas that need more attention.”

- Senator Chantal Petitclerc, Chair of the committee

“While many Canadians are successfully adapting to our new reality, it has become clear that vulnerable groups require additional support from the federal government. There have already been too many stories of loss and despair in seniors’ residences. Canada must be better prepared, or we will face further heartbreak.” 

- Senator Rose-May Poirier, Deputy Chair of the committee

“Essential workers — whether in farmers’ fields or hospital emergency rooms — are providing crucial services to Canadians. Yet they are not always receiving the support they need. The pandemic is far from over, but we now have a clearer sense of what more needs to be done.”

- Senator Diane Griffin, member of the Subcommittee on Agenda and Procedure

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