Just before the health crisis in Quebec broke out, Dr. Horacio Arruda was away from the country for 12 days, to make a business trip but especially pleasure in Morocco, according to what the Canadian Press learned .
The national director of public health left Quebec for Marrakech on Wednesday February 26 and was back from vacation on Sunday March 8 in Montreal.
Voices are rising in the political class to wonder whether this prolonged absence, at a turning point of the coronavirus pandemic, illustrates the blindness of the Legault government, in January and February, when the virus spread already around the world.
The PQ opposition wonders if it was prudent and wise to act in this way and if Quebec did not lose precious time to better anticipate the imminent danger, by preparing the health network to absorb the shock brutal that was going to happen.
Before going abroad, Dr. Arruda, who has the status of Assistant Deputy Minister, made sure to obtain the authorization of the Deputy Minister, Yvan Gendron, and the Minister of Health, Danielle McCann .
Upon his return from vacation, Dr. Arruda participated in a press conference with Minister McCann on March 9 before alerting Prime Minister François Legault of the seriousness of the situation, a first meeting with him who s ‘resulted in the creation of a crisis unit at the highest government level.
In his absence, a first case of infection was reported in Quebec on February 27. In three months, since the beginning of March, the COVID-19 virus will have claimed 5,000 lives in Quebec, which deplores more than 60% of all deaths in Canada.
In this context, Dr. Arruda’s vacation leaves the PQ opposition perplexed.
No doubt that this parenthesis had a direct impact on the progression of the crisis, according to the PQ health critic, the deputy of the Magdalen Islands, Joël Arseneau, convinced that measures were taken too late .
In an interview, he was surprised at the apparent “casualness” of Dr. Arruda, convinced that the government could have acted “a month earlier”, in particular to ensure the supply of protective equipment, especially masks in sufficient quantity, and recruit staff in CHSLDs. Meanwhile, in late January, British Columbia and Alberta placed orders for equipment, including masks.
He wonders if his presence in Quebec could have made a difference.
“If we had grasped the extent of the crisis that was coming, obviously, the director of public health would not have granted himself these vacations, knowing that he was the conductor” Arseneau says, hastening to add that the government, in parallel, did not hesitate to cancel by decree the holidays of all the health personnel.
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Dr. Arruda refused a request for an interview about his absence from Quebec in February and March. Minister McCann declined to comment.
The ministry spokeswoman said that even though he was on vacation, he remained in touch with his team. “Throughout this period, he was in constant contact with the Department of Health and Social Services to monitor the situation,” said the department’s communications director, Catherine Gauthier, in an email.
However, replies Joël Arseneau, if measures had been taken earlier, during this period, “maybe we would not be there”.
From the end of February, the situation necessitated keeping the population informed. Mr. Arruda being absent, he had to be replaced by the Deputy Director General of Public Health Protection, Dr. Yves Jalbert, during press activities between February 27 and March 6, alongside the Minister McCann.
On March 12, shortly after the break week, Prime Minister François Legault and Dr. Arruda demanded that state employees impose a mandatory 14-day isolation period if they returned from work. ‘foreign.
Mr. Arruda, who resumed his duties upon his return from Marrakech, therefore ignored his own instructions. “If he had had any symptoms, he would have been placed in solitary confinement immediately,” said the ministry spokeswoman, in response to the apparent contradiction.
Morocco was one of the countries hit by the pandemic. In early March, the country had already registered a few cases of coronavirus infection, including one in Marrakech.
But it was not the coronavirus pandemic that led Dr. Arruda to Morocco (and not to Geneva, Switzerland, as reported by some media), but rather cannabis.
He had been invited by the organizers of the Officine Expo 2020 congress, held “under the high patronage of his majesty King Mohammed VI”, to deliver a conference on the legalization of cannabis in front of a few thousand African pharmacists.
The congress lasted two days, February 28 and 29.