EDMONTON -- A team of researchers have been awarded a large sum of money to start planning for the next public health crisis.

Taking the lead on the cross-Canada team of nearly 20 economists and mathematical modellers is Christopher McCabe, a professor in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Alberta (U of A).

They’ve been given $1.25 million by the federal government to start planning ahead, by creating a model to predict and track the impact of infectious diseases and policy responses.

“The idea is that we look at it across society to understand what the total effect is going to be,” McCabe explained.


The researchers plan to “quantify potential impacts” of various pandemic responses. This will allow decision-makers to make more informed decisions and be able to explain the trade-offs better to the people affected.

“For example, restrictions on movement and gatherings impact transportation, agriculture and education, and those impacts then feed back into the effectiveness of the measures,” McCabe said.

“If people can’t afford to quarantine because they can’t take a week off work, or employers can’t afford to allow their staff to quarantine because their business will go bankrupt, the quarantine won’t work.”

According to McCabe, in order to fully understand the impact of a public health crisis there has to be robust data available showing how each field impacts the other.

“Once you recognize that health feeds into the economy, then you realize that if the health-care system is going down, the economy will be taken down,” he said.

“You had to get the threat to health under control in order to allow the economy to function.”


Researchers are expected to analyze potential impacts of lockdowns or furlough subsidies and gaps in data for marginalized communities.

“What’s new is making the linkages so we can provide comprehensive, high-quality information from trusted sources promptly in times of emergency,” McCabe said.

This is a two-year study and McCabe hopes to have early results within a year.

“The only time that we make comparable levels of expenditure and have comparable social interventions is in times of war," he said.

“Ministries of defence practice for war so that when it happens, they’re prepared. We need to periodically ‘war game’ pandemics and policy responses for the same reason.”

According to McCabe, if the government is thinking of restricting “freedoms within our society to get a handle on the crisis,” then we need to question the effects it will have on the economy as well as society as a whole.