Public health measures to reduce the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission in Canada during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic: a scoping review

Julie PolisenaMaria OspinaOmolara SanniBrittany MatenchukRachel LivergantSana AmjadIgor ZoricNisrine HaddadAndra MorrisonKumanan WilsonIsaac BogochVivian A Welch


In the absence of an effective treatment or vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 at the beginning of the pandemic, the Canadian federal and provincial/territorial (P/T) governments issued public health measures to mitigate the risk of transmission. As such, Polisena et al. conducted a scoping review to compare pandemic preparedness strategies provided by the federal and P/T governments in Canada and assess whether any of the COVID-19 public health measures were specific to priority populations, as defined by relevant social determinants of health. The study results indicated that the availability of the evolving evidence, geographical location of the jurisdiction, and the goal to modify human behaviours outside an individual’s personal environment influenced the implementation of the public health measures. Some of the measures were also reflective of new evidence on preventive measures emerging in the earlier phase of the pandemic – as highlighted by the direction on mask use. Although almost 30% of all the public health measures issued were tailored towards priority groups, none targeted sex and gender or social capital and networks. Of note, several public health measures implemented would have resulted in unintended consequences for these populations, such as deterioration in mental health. While the role of social inequalities in the COVID-19 pandemic would benefit from further clarification, future public health measures should adopt an equity-lens as data continue to be collected that target the needs of priority populations.

Julie POLISENA, Canada

Julie POLISENA, Canada

Coopted Member

Julie Polisena is a Senior Epidemiologist in the Marketed Health Products Directorate at Health Canada. She has a Master of Science in Health Services Research from the University of Toronto and earned her doctorate in Epidemiology at the University of Ottawa. In addition to her doctoral fellowship in health technology assessment (HTA) at the Society for Medical Decision Making, she gained extensive experience in HTA at the Agostino Gemelli University Polyclinic in Rome, Italy and the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health.