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Ontario’s auditor general to release special report on COVID-19 long-term care readiness, response

Ontario’s auditor general is set to table a second special report at Queen’s Park on Wednesday that further probes the provincial government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bonnie Lysyk’s report, which her office previously said was set to focus on the management of COVID-19 spending, personal protective equipment and issues in long-term care, will be presented to the legislature Wednesday morning.

In late November, Lysyk released the findings of her first major examination of the government’s handling of the pandemic. It focused on the provincial government’s emergency management planning and bureaucracy, how it responded to the pandemic, outbreak planning and decision-making, laboratory testing, COVID-19 case management, and contact tracing.

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In that report, she cited issues with delays and confusion when it came to how decisions were being made. She also highlighted ‘confusing’ and indirect communications on COVID-19 from Ontario officials.

“Local medical officers of health informed us that they were confused by provincial politicians delivering public health advice in place of the chief medical officer of health,” the Nov. 25 report said.

“Public health units and other impacted stakeholders were not always made aware of provincial decisions that impacted their operations prior to these decisions being announced publicly. This left these parties unprepared to act in a timely manner.”

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Overall, Lysyk said the Ontario government’s response to COVID-19 was “slower and more reactive” compared to other provinces, noting many issues were avoidable because the provincial government “failed to act on key lessons identified after the 2003 SARS outbreak that had not been implemented.” She also said the provincial command and response structure became too “cumbersome” with many tables.

“We recognize that decision-makers, the health-care system and the public made every effort so that Ontario’s health system would not be overrun in the first wave,” Lysyk wrote.

“As we continue into this second wave, it is still not too late to make positive changes to help further control and reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

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At the time, the governing Progressive Conservatives took issue with many parts of the report. Premier Doug Ford dismissed it as “21 pages of inaccuracies” while accusing Lysyk of overstepping her authority.

“The auditor general’s job is not to be the chief medical officer, not to be the ombudsman, not to sit there and give us health advice,” he said.

“Stick with looking for value for money, stick with the job that we hired you for.”

Ford further suggested that co-operating with the audit process had siphoned government resources away from tackling the pandemic.

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Meanwhile, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said while the government welcomed some of the points raised by Lysyk, the report was a “disappointment” and “in many respects, a mischaracterization of the province’s pandemic response.”

“We have been decisive at every turn,” she said in November, adding Ontario was the first province to designate COVID-19 as a publicly reportable infectious disease and the second to declare a health emergency due to the pandemic.

This story will be updated Wednesday morning after the report is released.

— With files from The Canadian Press

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