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Federal procurement plan steps up aggression in Canada's fight against COVID-19

A "Bridge to Canada" sign is seen directing traffic to the Ambassador Bridge, during the coronavirus disease outbreak, at the international border crossing, which connects with Windsor, Ontario, in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., March 18, 2020.
A "Bridge to Canada" sign is seen directing traffic to the Ambassador Bridge, during the coronavirus disease outbreak, at the international border crossing, which connects with Windsor, Ontario, in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., March 18, 2020.

Controls at Canada/U.S. border get tighter



OTTAWA — The federal government has announced a wartime-like procurement plan to help domestically source products needed to fight COVID-19.

Speaking with reporters from self-isolation on Friday as his wife recovers from the coronavirus, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said many businesses have asked what they can do to help Canadians and, in response, the government has launched a new strategy to ensure needed items such as masks, ventilators and hand sanitizer can be produced in Canada.

Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand
Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand

This will include support for companies that want to retool their manufacturing facilities to produce necessary supplies — such as members of the auto parts industry that have offered to produce medical supplies, or distilleries that are making hand sanitizer — and for companies that already produce these supplies to rapidly ramp up the scale of their production, as well as for companies that are working on large-scale and later-stage research and development projects aimed at producing countermeasures to COVID-19 as quickly as possible, Trudeau said.

The federal government has already put out on a call on its Buy and Sell website asking companies what they currently have in stock as well as what they could produce to help out, and Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said the government has received more than 5,800 submissions.

The government will also use existing supply arrangements and contact suppliers to identify and purchase equipment and supplies.

The federal government says it is close to signing agreements with several companies, including Thornhill Medical to increase the production of ventilators, Medicom to procure N95 masks and Spartan Bioscience, a company developing a rapid COVID-19 test, which if successful will display a result in 30 minutes and could be used in airports and in clinics.

Anand said the government has already secured 11.3 million N95 masks for use in medical facilities — far more than the current need of the health-care system.

Chief medical officer Dr. Theresa Tam said one of the major reasons Canada needs to delay and flatten the COVID-19 pandemic curve is to buy time for research and innovation to occur.

“We urgently need diagnostics, critical health supplies, treatments and vaccines if we are to have the best chance of saving lives and bringing this epidemic to an end,” she said. “It's still too soon to know what will happen to COVID-19 in the upcoming months, but mobilizing our domestic production capacity and integrating ingenuity as part of our pandemic response will serve us well now and into the future.”

Border measures

Restrictions at the Canada/U.S. border will be very strict for at least the next month. - Reuters
Restrictions at the Canada/U.S. border will be very strict for at least the next month. - Reuters

Also announced Friday were new details of the mutual agreement to close the Canada-U.S. border.

Beginning Friday at 11:59 p.m. there will be no non-essential travel permitted between the two countries — that means travel that is considered tourism or recreational will not be allowed.

Both governments have assured their citizens that the supply chains that ensure food, fuel and life-saving medicines reach people on both sides of the border will not be affected by the measures.

The measures will also not restrict the movement of those who cross the land border every day to do essential work or for “other urgent or essential reasons.”

The agreement will be in place for 30 days, after which it will be reviewed by both parties.

On Thursday, the government addressed how it would handle asylum seekers to Canada, such as those happening at Quebec’s unofficial Roxham Road border crossing. Canada would detain and temporarily house all asylum seekers to ensure they are quarantined for 14 days as directed by Canada’s public-health officials before turning them over to Canada’s immigration system.

On Friday, however, Trudeau announced a new reciprocal arrangement under which Canada will return to the U.S. any irregular migrants who attempt to cross anywhere at the Canada-U.S. border.

Those crossing illegally into the U.S. will also be turned back.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair expanded on the arrangement, which will come into effect as of midnight on Saturday He said those who have crossed into Canada prior to the new rules coming into effect have already entered into Canada’s immigration system and will continue to be quarantined in temporary shelter for a 14-day period.

“We are taking this measure to maintain safety and order at our border, and at the same time these measures will only be in place temporarily as long as the agreement (about) the restrictions on non-essential travel remain in place,” Blair said

Even though border restrictions are tightening, Prime Minister Trudeau and the Canadian government are working to bring stranded Canadians home. - Reuters
Even though border restrictions are tightening, Prime Minister Trudeau and the Canadian government are working to bring stranded Canadians home. - Reuters

Internationally, Canada’s borders also remain closed — only asymptomatic Canadian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families are allowed to enter Canada.

Trudeau said the government is in discussions with Canadian airlines to help Canadians stranded abroad come home, and the first flight will pick up Canadians in Morocco this weekend.

It was a week of numerous major announcements for the Canadian government aimed at fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition to the border closures and procurement strategy, the government announced a $27-billion aid package aimed at those whose livelihoods have been disrupted by the coronavirus.

It includes support for low-income families and those not covered by employment insurance measures announced the previous week, as well as $55 billion to meet liquidity needs of Canadian businesses and households through tax deferral.

Trudeau said Service Canada received more than 500,000 EI applications in one week as of Friday, compared to just less than 27,000 applications for the same week last year.

As of Friday afternoon, there were more than 245,000 cases of COVID-19 reported in more than 179 countries. In Canada, there have been 925 confirmed cases and 12 deaths.

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