Coronavirus: Trudeau may tap Armed Forces, industry to produce additional medical supplies

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada may seek assistance from the private sector and the military to obtain medical equipment amid the new coronavirus pandemic.

He was asked Thursday about whether Canada will follow suit with the U.S. and Italy and use Canada’s Defence Production Act to summon the Canadian Armed Forces to produce additional supplies.

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“Yes, we are considering using any measures necessary to ensure that Canadians and our health-care systems have the support they need. We’ve already been engaged with industry on production and ramping up capacity to build and create more equipment,” he said at a press conference outside his home on Thursday.

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“We will, of course, look at military procurement as a solution as well. There’s a range of things that we can do, and we will do what is necessary.”

READ MORE: Live updates on coronavirus in Canada

Trudeau’s remarks come amid global concerns over the availability of ventilators — the medical devices that allow those with respiratory issues to breathe — as well as personal protective equipment.

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The federal government is leading a national bulk-purchasing effort to ensure the provinces have supplies, including items such as masks, gloves and testing swabs. Ottawa has earmarked $50 million for the Public Health Agency of Canada for such efforts.

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We’ve been working with the provinces and territories for quite some time on trying to determine what equipment they think they might need, what kinds of testing equipment they would need, personal protective equipment, including ventilators,” Health Minister Patty Hajdu said.

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There is a federal stockpile of supplies, she said, and anticipated shortages at the provincial level are being resolved quickly.

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Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said about 7 million masks have been requested and there is a supplier in place to fulfill about 75 per cent of that demand so far.

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For ventilators, Hajdu said some jurisdictions may have capacity to share equipment to address a potential surge in demand in another part of the country.

Several provinces have already ordered additional ventilators.

In B.C., Health Minister Adrian Dix said there were 1,272 ventilators, and the Alberta government says it has 477 with another 50 on order. Nova Scotia reportedly has 240, with another 140 on order. Manitoba health officials told reporters the province has 243 ventilators with another 20 on order.

Newfoundland and Labrador officials told Global News they have 156 ventilators. Saskatchewan has 91 adult ventilators for critical care, 80 additional subacute ventilators and 250 additional ventilators ordered. P.E.I. has 19, with 15 on order.

As of Thursday afternoon, there have been 733 cases of COVID-19 diagnosed in Canada and nine deaths.