PM Trudeau says more medical supplies coming in days as industry retools
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the federal government is spending $2 billion to procure more diagnostic testing, ventilators, and personal protective equipment for front-line workers in the COVID-19 fight, with some supplies set to be ready within days.
As part of this procurement, he said, hundreds of ventilators are now in production and the government has ordered millions of supplies in anticipation of a surge of patients at Canadian hospitals.
The federal government is spending $2 billion to procure more diagnostic testing, ventilators, and personal protective equipment for front-line workers in the COVID-19 fight, with some supplies set to be ready within days, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday.
Gaps have already been identified in some communities across the country, with various regions and health services reporting critical shortages and taking efforts to ration the supplies they have. On Tuesday, Quebec Premier Francois Legualt warned that in some places within the province equipment could run out in a matter of days, as the number of infected Quebecers soared past 4,000.
Across the country as of 3 p.m. EDT there were 8,476 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada.
“Demand for these goods is going up, so were making sure Canada is ready to keep up,” Trudeau told reporters on Tuesday, adding that the government is also making bulk purchases of the essential protective gear for the provinces and territories.
“We’re expecting shipments to come in in the coming days and we’ll continue to work tirelessly to get the supplies to where they’re needed,” he said.
Providing an update on the March 20 appeal to manufacturers to pivot their production lines to supply various life-saving medical supplies, Trudeau said the government has heard from almost 3,000 companies willing to help.
This industry effort includes building up the manufacturing capacity to produce equipment and supplies including face shields, gowns, and sanitizer.
A handful of companies are close to or have already signed contracts with the government to help boost the health sector’s stockpile of medical supplies including surgical masks, ventilators, test kits, and other protective gear.
"We have now managed to secure more than 157 million surgical masks to support the response. To date, we have also ordered more than 60 million N95 masks, a key piece of protection for healthcare workers. Delivery of these will begin this week,” said Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand in a briefing following Trudeau’s remarks.
Millions more COVID-19 test kits, gloves, and masks are also on the way, she said, adding that Canada is leaving “no stone unturned” in an effort to stock up on these essential supplies.
“This country has never seen procurement like it is occurring right now. It is broad-based, and it is aggressive,” Anand said.
THOUSANDS MORE VENTILATORS COMING
Anand said that already Canada has ordered 1,570 ventilators from companies in Canada, Europe, the U.S. and overseas, and will be looking at ordering an additional 4,000 or more if needed.
Providing a third of these ventilators is Thornhill Medical, which is one of three Canadian companies the government has contracted to produce supplies. The other two: Montreal-based Medicom and Ottawa-based Spartan Bioscience, will be making surgical masks and developing rapid COVID-19 test kits, respectively.
Spartan’s test kits will allow for many more Canadians to be tested for the virus that’s rapidly spread around the world, with devastating impacts.
Thornhill Medical is making 500 of its portable life support and ventilator units and says they will be available in Canadian health care facilities “by early April.”
The Toronto-based company has partnered with Guelph-based manufacturing company Linamar to produce the new units. In a statement discussing their agreement with the government, Thornhill Medical says the oxygen-generating devices are battery operated and allow health care workers “to maintain uninterrupted ICU-level care anywhere in the hospital,” or while transferring between hospitals.
"We are honoured to provide our Canadian-made ventilator system to support Canadians and our health-care system… in these unprecedented circumstances,” the company's CEO Lesley Gouldie said in a statement. In an interview on CTV News Channel Gouldie said that the first devices will go to Ontario.
Letters of intent have been signed with Precision Biomonitoring, Fluid Energy Group Ltd., Irving Oil, Calko Group, and Stanfield’s to also contribute to Canada’s stockpile.
“The goal is not only to meet domestic capacity requirements, but ultimately to produce masks for other jurisdictions in the future as well," said Industry Minister Navdeep Bains on Tuesday.
NEEDS DEPEND ON BEHAVIOUR
More equipment will be needed, from masks to testing kits, the prime minister said, cautioning that the scale of those needs will depend on how seriously Canadians take the physical distancing and self-isolation measures in place.
“If you stay home and follow public health recommendations, you can slow the spread and that means fewer patients in our hospitals, fewer people to test, and fewer ventilators to use on critical patients,” Trudeau said.
Starting this year, the government will be earmarking $1.5 billion over two years to the Public Health Agency of Canada to support purchasing these supplies and diagnostic equipment with an additional $500 million coming in the 2020-21 fiscal year.
The government has also shifted the country’s entire industrial policy to focus on the COVID-19 fight. This has included reprioritizing existing innovation and research programs and working on agreements with industry to fast-track the creation and regulatory approvals for getting diagnostic testing products and other disease tracking technology to market.
“Whether it’s companies with ready-to-go products, with products not yet authorized, or for companies whose products need a little more development, or who need help scaling-up. If you tell us you want help, we will connect you with the relevant federal support to ensure we increase domestic supply,” Bains said.
Trudeau offered thanks to the companies that have collected and donated supplies to the Canadian effort, as well as the many smaller businesses that have offered their expertise and capacity to help meet the needs of front-line staff.
“It is so important that we have made-in-Canada supply chains to provide us with this essential equipment for the coming weeks, for the coming months,” Trudeau said.
COST OF ECONOMIC AID COMING
The prime minister spoke to the latest efforts the federal government is taking to address the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage, as the number of cases in Canada continues to climb.
Later Tuesday, Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade Minister Mary Ng were expected to provide an update on the costs of certain economic aid measures taken so far, including the expanded wage subsidy for Canadian businesses. However, because the details were still being worked on, that briefing has been delayed until Wednesday.
With the scheduled federal budget day come and gone, and the price tag continuing to grow as the government focuses on ways to keep Canadians safe and employed, the ministers are expected to outline more details about the economic impact of measures taken so far.
The government continues to indicate more financial assistance will come to Canadians and impacted sectors as the shutdown of many aspects of society continues, to try to flatten the curve of the virus.
Early Tuesday, the government announced it would be waiving the ground lease rents between March and December 2020 for the 21 airports that pay rent to the federal government, as well as to PortsToronto, which operates the Billy Bishop airport in downtown Toronto.
Noting how the air transportation sector has been impacted by the worldwide travel restrictions aimed at limited the spread of COVID-19, the government said it wanted to reduce “cost pressures and preserve their cash flow.”
This move is estimated to result in $331.4 million in relief.
“We want to provide relief for these important entities who are still open under difficult circumstances, and are helping to help bring Canadians home. We are appreciative that they continue to support the flow of people and goods during this challenging time,” Transport Minister Marc Garneau said in a statement.
Later Tuesday, the House health committee will be convening an entirely virtual meeting, to receive a briefing from health, foreign affairs, and border officials about COVID-19 response efforts underway.