TORONTO — Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, which has provided guidance and advice to the government and public throughout most of the pandemic, said Friday that it is being dissolved, but the government said its work will continue.
Members of the group wrote in a letter Friday that Public Health Ontario informed them last week that the science table and its working groups would be dissolved as of Sept. 6. The advisers said that as the table winds down, it will aim to complete existing work.
"The Science Table's work reflects the remarkable dedication of the hundreds of volunteer scientists, physicians and administrators who devoted their time to the effort," they wrote.
"We are deeply grateful for the opportunity to have served Ontario since July of 2020. Many of us will remember our work for the Science Table as some of the most important work we have ever had the chance to do."
A statement Friday from Public Health Ontario suggested it is looking at forming a new group, saying it has been engaged in discussions with science table representatives over the last few weeks over new terms of reference.
"The new terms of reference establish a mandate that reflects a long-term, sustainable approach and ensures the continued provision of credible and independent scientific and technical public health advice to the province on COVID-19 and future public health emergencies," it wrote.
"Membership will continue to be comprised of independent experts."
Premier Doug Ford said he isn't dissolving the science table.
"We're actually transferring it over to public health," he said at an unrelated press conference. "They had an incredible relationship throughout this pandemic. They're going to have a full-time home, rather than be put out there in limbo."
The group of independent scientists – which was initially overseen by the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto – has been under Public Health Ontario since April 4, when the agency announced it would host the expert group on a permanent basis.
It said at the time it would develop new terms of reference to become "sustainable over time" and be able to scale up if necessary in the event of future public health emergencies.
The Ministry of Health said in a statement Friday "the work of the Science Advisory Table" will continue.
The science table's advice and guidance at times during the pandemic have run contrary to government actions, and its former scientific director, Dr. Peter Juni, was particularly outspoken.
Dr. Fahad Razak, who took over the position from Juni this year, said in a statement that he hopes the scientific advice the group provided to the public and decision makers has helped to reduce suffering.
"The COVID-19 pandemic will remain a daunting challenge for the foreseeable future and our health-care system is under extraordinary strain right now," he wrote.
"I hope we can take all the steps necessary to reduce the burden of the pandemic to keep our system functioning in the difficult months ahead."
By Allison Jones, The Canadian Press