Ontario Premier Doug Ford has said that a shipment containing critical personal protective equipment for Canadian health care workers was stopped at the U.S. border by the Trump administration.
Ford told multiple news outlets that as Canada deals with the global coronavirus pandemic, a shipment of 3 million surgical masks was stopped at the Ontario border Sunday night. At a Monday afternoon press conference, Ford said that some of the masks have since been released.
“What I understand is we have 3 million masks that were stopped by U.S. officials,” said Ford at a Monday press conference. “I was just briefed that we were able to get 500,000 N95 masks released today into Ontario.”
Ford said getting anything across the border right now was “very difficult” and he would only believe the masks are coming when “he sees them.”
The premier’s office told VICE in a statement that without more masks Ontario health care workers will run out of personal protective equipment (PPE) by the end of next week if no masks come in. “Delays in global shipments and recent restrictions at the U.S. border have severely strained Ontario’s inventory and left the province with roughly a one-week supply of critical PPE,” reads the statement. Ford said Ontario was running low on everything but the “real tough ones” to restock up on are N95 masks, level 2 surgical masks and surgical gowns.
Ford said he’s hoping to manufacture the PPE in the province. but that will take weeks if not months to produce, so in the meantime, Ontario is reliant on other sources like the U.S.. In light of the limited supplies, Ford implored Ontario citizens to “listen to the experts” and “stop the spread of the virus before it affects someone close to you.”
“The hard truth is our supplies in Ontario are getting very low and the more new cases we get the more demand is placed on our resources,” he said. “How fast this virus spreads is up to us.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday morning that Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne spoke to the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the shipments this morning. Trudeau and Ford both said top officials were working with the American administration to grant Canada an exemption from a presidential order limiting exported PPE.
“We are working very closely with all provinces and monitoring the levels of PPE and the challenges they’re facing on procurement and making sure health officials help healthcare workers across the country get the help they need,” said Trudeau. “We continue to have productive and positive conversations with the United States, emphasizing for them that health care supplies and workers across the border is very much a two-way street.”
Trudeau went on to say Canada supplies the United States with primary resources that allow American manufacturers to create the “equipment so desperately needed both in America and the rest of the world.” He added it was in the two countries' “collective interest” to allow the flow of resources over the border.
The news comes after US President Donald Trump formally invoked the Defense Production Act against medical supply manufacturer 3M late last week. The company said that the Trump administration also requested that they cease shipping their wares to Canada and Latin America. 3M pushed back saying that ceasing their exports to these countries could cause “significant humanitarian implications.”
The night before Trump had tweeted that the administration was surprised “as to what they were doing” and that the company “will have a big price to pay!”
Canada is struggling to acquire the needed health care equipment during this pandemic. The country has limited domestic production of the products—although several companies are beginning to shift their focus to producing them. Acquiring the PPE on the international market is immensely competitive and was described by Chrystia Freeland, the deputy minister of Canada, as the "wild wild west."
After the news of the Trump administration's request was announced, Doug Ford spoke passionately about how “disappointed” he was and that he would never trust another country for critical equipment again.
“When the cards are down, you see who your friends are,” Ford said on Saturday in a teleconference. “And I think it’s been very clear over the last couple of days who our friends are.”
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