https://www.theglobeandmail.co....m/canada/article-wit It was MARCH 2019 and Months before the COVID-19 outbreak, the federal government’s early warning system went silent, just as it was needed most. The change left Canada poorly prepared as the virus began to spread rapidly around the world. Grant Robertson investigatesOn the morning of Dec. 31, as word of a troubling new outbreak in China began to reverberate around the world, in news reports and on social media, a group of analysts inside the federal government and their bosses were caught completely off guard.
The virus had been festering in China for weeks, possibly months, but the Public Health Agency of Canada appeared to know nothing about it – which was unusual because the government had a team of highly specialized doctors and epidemiologists whose job was to scour the world for advance warning of major health threats. And their track record was impressive.
Some of the earliest signs of past international outbreaks, including H1N1, MERS and Ebola, were detected by this Canadian early warning system, which helped countries around the world prepare.
Known as the Global Public Health Intelligence Network, or GPHIN, the unit was among Canada’s contributions to the World Health Organization, and it operated as a kind of medical Amber Alert system. Its job was to gather intelligence and spot pandemics early, before they began, giving the government and other countries a head start to respond and – hopefully – prevent a catastrophe. And the results often spoke for themselves.
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The Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN), part of the Canadian government, was instrumental in detecting potential threats including an Ebola outbreak.
AurÈlie Marrier d'Unienville/The Associated Press
Russia once accused Canada of spying, after GPHIN analysts determined that a rash of strange illnesses in Chechnya were the result of a chemical release the Kremlin tried to keep quiet. Impressed by GPHIN’s data-mining capabilities, Google offered to buy it from the federal government in 2008. And two years ago, the WHO praised the operation as “the foundation” of a global pandemic early warning system.
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