Industry minister: We’re mobilizing industry at an unprecedented rate
As Canadians self-isolate in droves to help buy time for the health system to get ready for a potential deluge of COVID-19 cases, the federal government is buying supplies.
Upwards of 60 million N95 masks, a crucial piece of protection for health-care workers, are expected to be delivered this week, and at least 500 ventilators are slated to be added to the national supply, Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said Tuesday.
"As the items come in, they go out to the provinces," Anand said.
The search continues for 4,000 more ventilators, and the government is allocating upwards of $2 billion to ensure more protective gear can be bought for the health-care industry.
The money and supplies are flowing as hospitals are actively calling for donations from the public, and medical professionals continue to sound the alarm that they don't have what they need to protect themselves and treat the patients.
Quebec Premier Francois Legault warned Tuesday his province could run out of some kinds of medical supplies in three to seven days.
The next two weeks are believed to be the crunch time for Canada's efforts to curb the spread of the virus. Though the number of new cases being reported daily is increasing, public health officials note that lags in testing mean those results are from infections dating back days.
All eyes are on whether the aggressive physical distancing measures implemented in the latter half of March have gone far enough to halt a potential spike in infections that could in turn overwhelm the health-care system.
"It is unclear what the next two weeks is going to look like and as a result of the fact that we cannot predict this pandemic, which has no geographical boundary, we have decided that in procurement we will take a very aggressive approach and prepare our country and our procurement for all circumstances," Anand said
"As a result we are working hard to procure more than is asked in many circumstances."
Anand said the government is fighting against a global shortage of equipment as all countries are trying to procure their own essential goods.
The orders being placed represent the maximum of what the government thinks is available, both from existing suppliers and companies now retooling to produce goods such as hand sanitizer and masks.
The bulk buy follows through on a plea to Canadian industry from the federal government at the outset of the national pandemic response plan that was rolled out just a week and a half ago.
Three contracts were signed with Canadian equipment makers at the time, and Trudeau announced Tuesday that five more have been inked.
Anand said the government has heard from upwards of 16,000 firms interested in helping.
The ventilators are coming from Toronto-based Thornhill Medical, which said Tuesday it is making 500 of them for the federal government and has a separate agreement to supply Ontario.
But Anand said the federal and provincial governments aren't fighting it out for scarce resources.
"The provinces and the federal government are working hand-in-glove on these issues," she said.
Everyone is looking to fill existing gaps, she said, citing Ontario Premier Doug Ford's offer to backstop Quebec's equipment shortage this week.
How much gear Canada will ultimately need rests in part on Canadians themselves, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday.
"We will need more masks, ventilators and testing kits, but how many more we need depends entirely on you," Trudeau said.
"If you stay home and follow public health recommendations, you can slow the spread."