OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says there will be time for accountability later, after classified U.S. intelligence reportedly concluded China concealed the extent of its coronavirus outbreak from the world.
Three unnamed U.S. officials told Bloomberg News Wednesday the report was sent to the White House last week. Trudeau did not respond directly when asked if the government trusts information coming out from China.
“We’ve learnt a lot from South Korea, Singapore, and other countries. We’ve learned, unfortunately, a lot from Italy as well in terms of what worked and what didn’t work there,” the prime minister said, at a daily news conference outside his Ottawa home Thursday.
“Obviously, there will be many many questions as this is all worked through over the coming months, and indeed years, on how this was handled, what lessons are taken, who did well, who didn’t do as well, and who was perhaps not as forthcoming with the global community as they should have been.”
Watch: Trudeau says better data on COVID-19 in Canada is on its way. Story continues below video.
Those questions, he said, are for the future. “Our focus right now is getting through this in a way that keeps Canadians whole and safe.”
Cabinet ministers later gave reporters a confused picture on whether the Canadian government believes China may have under-reported its cases and death counts.
“We are very concerned about this information,” Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said, at the ministers and public health officers’ daily press conference. He said he had just wrapped up a call with NATO allies on the topic and international partners are aware they need to speak with one voice to uphold facts and a science-based approach.
“People watching at home deserve answers, they deserve data, they deserve the truth when it comes to actual data,” Champagne said.
Canada draws its information from the World Health Organization (WHO) and it doesn’t rely on one country’s data, Health Minister Patty Hajdu added.
“There’s no indication that the data that came out of China, in terms of their infection rate and their death rate, was falsified in any way,” she said.
The death rate reported in China is much higher, the health minister said, than the death rate officials are now seeing.
The WHO’s latest situation report states there are 82,631 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in China, and 3,321 reported deaths. That suggests a case fatality rate of four per cent. With 10,117 cases in Canada as of Thursday morning and 127 deaths, the case fatality rate so far here is 1.25 per cent.
The United States, with 213,144 confirmed cases and 4,513 deaths, has a case fatality rate of 2.12 per cent. It is important to note, however, this rate reflects only reported COVID-19 cases and is likely inaccurate.
Hajdu then scolded the reporter asking the question about China, saying his question “is feeding into conspiracy theories that many people have been perpetuating on the Internet.” She said the global community needs to work together if they want to beat the pandemic.
“As long as coronavirus exists in one country, it exists in all of our countries,” she said. “No country is an island.”
Travellers restricted by temporary border closures
Country-wide physical distancing measures have been in place since mid-March to slow the spread of COVID-19, the highly contagious respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Canada tightened control measures around the same time, closing the border to foreign travellers. Days later, Trudeau announced a temporary shutdown of the Canada-U.S. border to all non-essential travel for 30 days to curb cross-border transmission of the virus.
Stateside, U.S. President Donald Trump has been blunt in his remarks, warning Americans to brace for a “rough two-week period.” The White House released projections this week estimating the coronavirus outbreak will lead to between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths.
As countries like New Zealand and the United States project the numbers of people in their countries who might die from COVID-19, Canadian officials are under pressure to be more transparent with health modelling data.
Trudeau started his press conference Thursday acknowledging public desire to see more data so Canadians can plan and get a sense of what measures are working or not.
He defended the government’s current approach, saying the preference is to hold out for “clearer numbers and clear analysis” than to share a range of scenarios that are “not as useful or important.”
He urged Canadians to continue physical distancing measures, repeating calls to minimize trips outside the house, and to maintain a two-metre distance between people.
“Everything that we are going to face will be directly linked to how people behave today. And that is why it is so important people stay home.”
With files from Althia Raj, The Canadian Press
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