Scientists get $1.1B boost from Ottawa in COVID-19 fight

Funding being directed to three distinct efforts

Ottawa is committing another $1.1 billion to the nation’s scientific research community to accelerate the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, as well as treatments and testing for the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday (April 23) $115 million of that figure will be going towards research into a vaccine and treatments.

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Another $662 million will go towards clinical trials led by Canada, while $350 million is being committed to efforts to expand national testing and modelling for the coronavirus.

The prime minister also announced the launch of the COVID-19 Immunity Taskforce featuring leading health experts that will be overseeing efforts to pursue blood tests that will track immunity to the coronavirus.

Members include Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam.

“They will be looking at key questions like, how many people beyond those we’ve already tested have had COVID-19, whether you’re immune once you’ve had it and, if so, how long [immunity] lasts,” Trudeau said during his daily media briefing outside his home in Ottawa.

“The better we understand this virus, its spread and its impact on different people, the better we can fight it and eventually defeat it.”

He said more than 1 million Canadians will be tested over the next two years.

Trudeau also reiterated previous statements that Canadians will not be able to return to normalcy until a vaccine is widely available.

The new measures announced Thursday are aimed at ensuring that Canada will be able to quickly manufacture and distribute a vaccine once one is available.

But the prime minister said Canadians can expect current restrictions on movement and activity will be loosened in the coming months as the number of new cases flatten.

Private companies on the West Coast have already been using government funds, in part, to develop treatments for the coronavirus.

The Vancouver-based Digital Technology Supercluster announced April 20 it’s committing $60 million from its $153 million budget, backed by the federal government, to support the fight against COVID-19.

Among four projects given the greenlight by the supercluster is Rapid Repurposing of Drugs for COVID-19, led by Variational AI Inc.

The tech company and its partners are tapping artificial intelligence to repurpose available drugs that could potentially treat pandemic patients.

Meanwhile, Trudeau acknowledged the need for changes to the country’s long-term care centres in the wake of calls from Ontario and Quebec for military aid for these facilities.

“If you’re angry, frustrated, scared — you’re right to feel this way. We can better. We need to do better,” he said.

The prime minister also addressed racially motivated attacks unfolding in parts of Canada, including the assault on an elderly Vancouver man of east Asian descent that police revealed Wednesday.

“Intolerance and racism have no place in our country. Canada has succeeded because of our diversity. It is one of our greatest strengths,” Trudeau said.

“We need to continue in our resolve to continue to be an open, welcome, respectful country.”

The prime minister earlier confirmed during the briefing that Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, who’ve been held in detainment in China more than a year in apparent retaliation for the December 2018 arrest of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. executive Meng Wanzhou, have not had access to consular services amid the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 crisis has … the Chinese system in a position of not allowing consular visits but we have been assured that they are in a facility in a region that is not particularly affected by COVID-19,” he said.

“We are continuing to press both for more details and for better access.”


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