Federal government finalizing plan to boost production of pandemic supplies

By | March 19, 2020

The federal government is finalizing details of a plan to bolster the production of ventilators and other needed medical equipment to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead of encouraging other industries to re-tool their production lines to make medical supplies, senior government sources tell CBC News they’re hoping to work with existing companies already producing those products — especially gloves, masks and ventilators — to protect and build a supply chain that’s resistant to disruption.

An announcement is expected as early as Friday.

Ventilators are mechanical breathing machines that help patients with damaged lungs get enough oxygen to live. Since COVID-19 — a respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus — can damage the lungs, these devices could spell the difference between life and death for many patients.

No ventilator shortage yet: Tam

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam has said that while there is no current shortage of ventilators, federal officials are trying to prevent a shortage by managing existing inventories and securing more of the machines — preparing for the possibility that the COVID-19 caseload could start overwhelming hospitals.

In a conference call with more than 300 Canadian business leaders on Thursday afternoon, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains said he is looking at “how we use our current industrial capacity to be able to mobilize companies to build some of those very essential pieces of equipment, from ventilators, to gloves, to gowns, to masks.”

Bains said he is “finalizing some of these details” with cabinet to fast-track procurement access to critical medical supplies.

“Those are going to be critical for frontline health workers and how we deal with this crisis,” he said on the call, hosted by  the Council of Canadian Innovators.

In recent days, Canada’s automakers and aerospace manufacturers have been in discussions with officials at the federal level about how they could step in to fill critical shortages of medical supplies.

Both the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association and Aerospace Industries Association of Canada said they have spoken to officials from the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.

Government sources say, however, that while everything is “on the table” and “under consideration,” working with companies already producing these medical supplies is the preferred option.

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