Canada moving at an ‘unprecedented rate’ to make supplies amid coronavirus pandemic: minister

Canada’s innovation minister says that the country is moving quickly to increase production of personal protective equipment (PPE) in its fight against the novel coronavirus.

“We are mobilizing industry at an unprecedented rate to scale up operations, to retool,” Navdeep Bains, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, told Global News’ Mike Le Couteur on The West Block.

“There’s a lot of goodwill out there.”

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“Many companies are stepping up and we’re going to engage with them. And I’m confident that we’ll have more supplies, not less, going forward in the coming weeks and months.”

Personal protective equipment, which includes items such as gloves, masks and gowns, is essential for health-care staff in direct contact with the virus.

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On March 20, the federal government announced a plan to work with Canadian businesses and manufacturers in order to boost production of protective equipment, ventilators and sanitization supplies to fight the fast-spreading virus.

COVID-19 cases have now topped 700,000 worldwide and more than 33,000 people have died as of Sunday. Canada accounts for 6,232 of those cases, along with 63 deaths.

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Governments and health-care officials across the country have stressed the urgency for more PPE supplies, as depleting stockpiles due to the viral outbreak has caused some hospitals to begin rationing their equipment.

On Wednesday, a registered nurse said a “massive shortage” of PPE caused at least two Toronto hospitals to start limiting face masks for their front-line health-care workers, while the president of the New Brunswick Medical Society said on Friday that doctors across the province were also raising concerns on the availability of PPE.

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The World Health Organization previously estimated 89 million medical masks would roughly be needed each month to combat the COVID-19 outbreak. The WHO warned that the supply of PPE would need to increase by 40 per cent worldwide to meet demand.

The federal government is leading a bulk purchasing effort for the provinces to help them obtain necessary supplies.

Bains said he was working very closely with the Minister of Health Patty Hajdu to “understand the needs with respect to health-care supplies that they want us to pursue.”

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“So we’re building a lot of stuff and we have a strong domestic capacity and we’re purchasing a lot of stuff,” he said. “We want to be over prepared and not underprepared.”

Asked about Canada’s progress on the COVID-19 vaccine and how the federal government would prevent siloing and make sure researchers are working together, Bains emphasized Canada’s open science policy.

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“This a global challenge,” said Bains. “This is a global pandemic and so it requires a global effort when it comes to vaccine development. And we actually have a policy around that saying we’re going to share what we have and we’re going to share that knowledge with other jurisdictions.”

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $192 million to go towards developing and producing a vaccine for the coronavirus, emphasizing Canada’s readiness to mass-produce the vaccine, regardless of who creates it first.

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Bains said while progress is being made, it’s very challenging to say when a vaccine could be available.

“Some have estimated a year, some have said 18 months. It really does depend. It’s something that could happen very quickly,” said Bains.

“So we’re confident that we’re making progress, but it is — it would be misleading if I had a particular date to share with Canadians at this moment.”

— With files from Maham Abedi

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