Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk says outdated provincial emergency plans, insufficient staff and significant changeover in the leadership at the provincial Emergency Management Office have resulted in a slow response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lysyk’s audit found the provincial response was hampered by delays and confusion in decision-making resulting in a slower and more reactive response than seen in other provinces.
The audit looked at three areas: emergency management and pandemic response; outbreak planning and decision-making; and lab testing, case management and contact tracing.
The auditor general found Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, did not fully exercise his powers in response to the pandemic; that directives were not issued to local health officials to ensure a consistent response across the province.
Auditors were also concerned that laboratory testing, case management and contact tracing for COVID-19 were still not all being performed in Ontario in a timely enough manner to contain the spread of the virus.
Lysyk’s report suggests many of these issues were avoidable, had the province acted on lessons learned from the SARS outbreak in 2003.
“For example, the SARS Commission’s final report identified taking preventative measures to protect the public’s health even in the absence of complete information and scientific certainty as the most important
lesson of SARS,” stated Lysyk. “Following this principle means taking informed decisive action early. This is not what the audit found; instead, we found systemic issues and delays in decision-making.”
Among the recommendations from the SARS Commission were streamlining operations of Ontario’s 34 public health units. Lysyk found they continue to function independently with little sharing of best practices. This, she says, has resulted in a disorganized and inconsistent response to COVID-19.