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8.35 We found that, although the agency engaged with provincial and territorial partners and was advanced in its preparations to test the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Public Health Response Plan for Biological Events through a large-scale exercise simulating an influenza pandemic, the agency did not complete this test exercise with its partners prior to the COVID‑19 pandemic. The test exercise had been scheduled for 2020. The exercise, developed with provincial and territorial partners, would have tested a variety of response elements, including the infrastructure for gathering and sharing public health data. The agency indicated that because of the COVID‑19 pandemic, this exercise could not proceed further.

8.36 In our view, if the agency had completed a national pandemic simulation exercise before the COVID‑19 pandemic, it could have improved its understanding of provincial and territorial pandemic response capacity, ensured roles and responsibilities were understood among partners, and identified potential obstacles to a response.

8.37 Recommendation. The Public Health Agency of Canada should work with its partners to evaluate all plans to assess whether emergency response activities during the COVID‑19 pandemic were carried out as intended and met objectives. This evaluation and other lessons learned from the pandemic should inform updates to plans. The agency should further test its readiness for a future pandemic or other public health event.

The agency’s response. Agreed. The experience of COVID‑19 has provided a lived experience of a global pandemic, the nature of which Canada has not seen in over 100 years. Recognizing that existing plans provided a framework to guide the current response but that improvements are always possible, the Public Health Agency of Canada will incorporate learnings from the pandemic into its plans and test them as appropriate. In updating and testing these plans, the agency will work with provincial and territorial partners to reflect shared responsibilities for public health emergencies. This work will be completed within 2 years after the end of the pandemic.