Coronavirus: Ford says millions of medical masks from 3M blocked at border, 500K released so far

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says a shipment of medical masks was blocked at the U.S. border from entering Ontario.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated twice to reflect two sets of clarifications made by an Ontario government source and Premier Doug Ford about the number of ordered/blocked masks.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says the province ordered roughly three or four million medical masks from American supplier 3M only to have them blocked at the border on Sunday amid the coronavirus pandemic.

But Ford said he was told Monday that 500,000 of those masks are being released to Ontario.

All of this comes on the heels of a statement last week by 3M saying that the Trump administration had ordered the company to stop exporting N95 respirators to Canada and Latin America.

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Ford said in interviews with media on Monday morning that an order of three million masks had been blocked at the U.S. border on Sunday.

An Ontario government source then clarified that it was actually 500,000 — not three million — medical masks held up at the border, but said they had since been released.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: Ontario struggles to get masks from U.S.'
Coronavirus: Ontario struggles to get masks from U.S.

Then after that, Ford spoke to media at his daily press conference to offer additional explanation.

“What I understand is we had three million masks that were stopped by U.S. officials coming out of 3M in South Dakota,” Ford said.

“I just was briefed not long ago saying we were able to get 500,000 N95 masks moving forward that should be released today coming into Ontario.”

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Later on Monday, following U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement of a deal with 3M to produce over 166 million masks, the company confirmed that both Canada and Latin America would continue to receive N95 respirators.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Canada’s mortality curve is steepening quickly'
COVID-19: Canada’s mortality curve is steepening quickly

“3M will import 166.5 million respirators over the next three months primarily from its manufacturing facility in China, starting in April,” read a press release from the company.

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“The Administration is committed to working to address and remove export and regulatory restrictions to enable this plan. The plan will also enable 3M to continue sending U.S. produced respirators to Canada and Latin America, where 3M is the primary source of supply.”

Ford also responded to 3M’s announcement in a tweet Monday night.

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“I am very pleased that a resolution has been reached between 3M and the U.S. administration. I want to thank 3M and officials on both sides of the border for their support to ensure Canada’s continued access to vital PPE,” read his tweet.

“We are stronger together.”

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau says they expect equipment shipments from U.S. to be delivered'
Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau says they expect equipment shipments from U.S. to be delivered

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had earlier on Monday declined to confirm that the shipment was blocked, saying only that Canadian officials continue talks with U.S. officials about the situation.

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“We are working very closely with all provinces and monitoring the levels of personal protective equipment and the challenges they’re facing,” Trudeau said in his daily media briefing.

“We continue to have productive and positive conversations with the United States emphasizing for them that health-care supplies and workers across the border are very much a two-way street.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne shared a readout of a phone call earlier on Monday with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

He said the two “addressed the need to ensure the flow of essential goods and to keep supply chains intact during this ongoing crisis, especially for medical supplies and personal protective equipment.”

A State Department spokesperson told Global News

“Leaders around the world are grappling with unprecedented challenges as they tackle the COVID-19 global pandemic,” the spokesperson said.

“The United States is significantly increasing production of materials domestically while working through appropriate channels to purchase excess supplies from other nations to meet our needs.”

The spokesperson continued, saying the U.S. government is also taking action on price-gouging and “pandemic profiteering.”

“We remain concerned about pervasive attempts to divide international efforts through unsourced, unattributed disinformation campaigns.”

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Earlier on Monday, Ford had called the blockage at the border “unacceptable.”

“We had three million masks stopped at the border this weekend coming up to Canada. That’s unacceptable. Absolutely unacceptable that they’re doing this,” Ford said in an interview with Global News.

“Hopefully we’re going to work through it and get an exemption for Canada.”

As a result, Ford said the province now expects to run out of masks and other personal protective equipment for healthcare workers next week.

He later added during his press conference that the 500,000 masks being released should buy Ontario healthcare workers an extra week of personal protective equipment, but that the situation was still dire.

“I don’t want to be crying wolf unless it’s real, and I’m being serious,” he said.

Meanwhile, a shipment of millions of surgical masks from China landed on Monday morning in Toronto. Public Services and Procurement Canada spokesperson Cecely Roy said the chartered cargo flight carried millions of surgical masks as well as orders placed by Quebec and Nova Scotia.

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“Those are orders placed independently from the federal government, but we are providing support for provinces and territories that may need help getting deliveries back to Canada,” she said Monday evening.

The shipment is currently being received and assessed by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

“They are moving through that process as quickly as they can because we all know that the primary objective here is to make sure that it gets to the provinces and territories and frontline workers from that point,” Roy said.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Ford calls it ‘unacceptable’ for Trump to order 3M to stop exporting N95 masks to Canada'
Coronavirus outbreak: Ford calls it ‘unacceptable’ for Trump to order 3M to stop exporting N95 masks to Canada

Ford and provincial health professionals shared modelling on Friday of how hard the coronavirus could hit Ontarians over the next two years.

That modelling suggests 1,600 Ontarians could be dead by the end of the month, with between 3,000 to 15,000 dead within 18 months to two years.

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Ford used the numbers to urge Ontarians to stay in their homes and practice strict physical distancing, citing that without the measures taken so far to try to contain the spread, the death toll projections for April in Ontario would be 6,000 individuals.

The coronavirus pandemic has infected more than 1.2 million people worldwide and killed 70,356.

In Canada, there are 15,496 confirmed cases and 280 deaths so far.

— With files by Global News reporter Maryam Shah

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