‘Millions of masks’ expected as 3M faces pressure over equipment exports

By | April 4, 2020

The latest: 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has addressed concerns about the urgent need for medical protective equipment to help curb the spread of COVID-19, saying a large shipment of masks will be headed to Canada soon.

“In the next 48 hours, we will be receiving a shipment of millions of masks by a chartered cargo flight. We’re also working with provinces to transport their medical supplies when possible,” Trudeau said Saturday at his daily media briefing just outside his Rideau Cottage residence in Ottawa. 

“Our government has also leased a warehouse in China to help collect and distribute these items as quickly as possible.”

With just over 12,950 cases of COVID-19 reported across Canada on Saturday, including 219 deaths, the prime minister faced questions about U.S. President Donald Trump’s order issued on Friday, telling Minnesota-based 3M to stop supplying N95 respirator masks to Canada and Latin America. Trump said he wants the masks reserved strictly for American health-care workers.

Trudeau said the federal government has been “very clearly” communicating to the Trump administration that it is critical not to disrupt the two-way flow of essential goods and services — and on Saturday he said he would be speaking with Trump again “in the coming days.” Canadian officials, he said, have been talking to people at “all levels” of the Trump administration to ensure essential medical equipment can move freely. 

On Friday, Ontario released its provincial projection and modelling information related to the pandemic, with Premier Doug Ford saying that he wants the province’s residents to know “what I know.”

The modelling projects the coronavirus crisis could last 18 months to two years and kill 3,000 to 15,000 people, even with public health measures in place.

WATCH | Public Health Ontario head projects between 3,000 and 15,000 deaths over pandemic’s full course: 

The best case scenario for the number of COVID-19 related deaths in Ontario is 3,000-15,000 over the full course of the pandemic, says Dr. Peter Donnelly, the CEO of Public Health Ontario. 2:56

“Had we done nothing, Ontario may have suffered 100,000 deaths,” said Public Health Ontario CEO Peter Donnelly, referencing the province’s physical distancing and other measures.

Trudeau said officials at the federal level are “working on getting the rest of the provinces’ scenarios” … “to be able to prepare proper projections” on a nationwide basis, and that he expects more modelling and predictions to be released in the coming days.

Three of Atlantic Canada’s four provinces say they will attempt to provide COVID-19 modelling projections sometime next week. Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and P.E.I. all say they will provide numbers, although Newfoundland and Labrador says it doesn’t have sufficient data to do so.

Global cases of the novel coronavirus have shot past one million with more than 54,000 fatalities, a Reuters tally showed on Friday.

The pandemic has also brought the global economy to a standstill and plunged the world into a recession that will be “way worse” than the global financial crisis a decade ago, the head of the International Monetary Fund said on Friday.

Global stock markets sank on Friday following another sign the pandemic would take a huge toll on economic growth. The U.S. economy shed 701,000 jobs in March, ending a historic 113 straight months of employment growth, while U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Congress will work on another relief bill, with health care topping the list of priorities.

WATCH | How some businesses are adjusting to COVID-19:

Rocco Rossi, president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, talks to CBC. 5:46

WATCH | Trudeau talks Friday about controversy around cross-border flow of critical supplies:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reacts to the news that the Trump administration has ordered a major manufacturer 3M to stop exporting N95 masks to Canada. 1:43

At his daily briefing on the pandemic, Trudeau will likely also face more questions about U.S. President Donald Trump’s request that Minnesota-based 3M stop supplying N95 respirator masks to Canada and Latin America. Trump wants the masks, which are critical to protect frontline health-care workers, reserved strictly for American use.

Trudeau said the federal government was making the point “very clearly” to the Trump administration that it is critical not to disrupt the two-way flow of essential goods and services — including Canadian health care professionals who work in American hospitals — that cross the border every day.

Trudeau also said Friday that the Canadian Armed Forces will assist in northern Quebec to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in isolated communities, at the provincial government’s request. The Rangers, which are part of the Canadian Armed Forces Reserve and provide a Canadian Armed Forces presence in northern and isolated communities, will help set up tents and other medical equipment, as required by the communities.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with health problems, it can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) says the situation is evolving daily but that the risk to Canadians from COVID-19 is “considered high.”

Here’s a look at what’s happening in Canada, the U.S. and around the world.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in the provinces and territories

Canada has more than 13,800 confirmed and presumptive cases, with 244 deaths. The provinces and territories that list information about recovered cases have reported 2,532 cases as resolved or recovered. There have also been two reported COVID-19-related deaths of Canadians abroad — one in Japan and one in Brazil. 

Public health officials caution that reported case numbers don’t provide a complete picture of the scale of the outbreak as that data doesn’t capture people who haven’t been tested and cases that are still under investigation. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, has urged people nationwide to practise physical distancing and behave as though there is COVID-19 in their community, even if there is no known case. 

In British Columbia, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Friday announced that the number of people hospitalized with the novel coronavirus had actually dropped by three to 146. In the same time period, four COVID-19 patients died, bringing the province’s total to 35 so far. Read more about what’s happening in B.C.

BC Ferries says service reductions will go into effect beginning Saturday on major ferry routes for 60 days, including the Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay route between West Vancouver and Nanaimo, B.C.

A health-care worker wearing protective gear walks in front of a COVID-19 assessment centre at the Scarborough Hospital in Toronto on Friday. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press )

Alberta has declared coronavirus outbreaks at nine seniors’ facilities. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said there are now 74 confirmed COVID-19 cases in continuing-care facilities “and I expect that more will be confirmed in the coming days.” The province reported five more people have died. That brings the death toll to 18, and the total number of cases to 1,075. Read more about what’s happening in Alberta.

In Saskatchewan, the head of the province’s nurses union says health officials are looking at “new and creative ways” for medical workers to use face masks. Tracy Zambory says the Saskatchewan Health Authority will have to first conduct trials to make sure the practice is safe in hospitals where PPE (personal protective equipment) is already being rationed. Read more about what’s happening in Saskatchewan, and the story of a Saskatchewan man living in New York who has helped get N95 masks into the hands of health-care professionals in that city.

WATCH | Paramedic describes front-line fight against COVID-19:

Iggy Chan says coronavirus has made his job more dangerous because he is fighting an ‘invisible’ enemy. 4:41

In Manitoba, unions representing Health Sciences Centre workers say at least 70 staff members — including doctors, nurses, clerks and security guards  — are self-isolating after COVID-19 exposures. Read more about what’s happening at the Winnipeg health facility and across Manitoba.

Ontario was reporting 375 new COVID-19 cases as of Saturday morning, bringing the provincial total to 3,630. So far, 99 people have died, according to CBC tallies. Mary Hoare, CEO of St Clair O’Connor retirement home, has reported the deaths of four of the facility’s residents. She said 17 other residents are displaying symptoms and awaiting test results.

In Toronto, people who violate a new physical distancing city bylaw could be fined up to $1,000 — although education is the “preferred method of enforcement,” said Meaghan Gray, spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service. There will be 160 police officers on the lookout, she said. Read more about what’s happening in Ontario.

Quebec’s premier said health-care workers who are in contact with COVID-19 cases will get an increase in pay. “I don’t think there is a group that has ever been more deserving of a pay raise,” said Premier François Legault, who also announced a smaller raise for health workers not in direct contact with the virus, as well as a raise for workers in long-term care facilities. Read more about what’s happening across Quebec, and get the details of the planned pay hikes.

A shopper is seen wearing a protective face mask and full face visor outside a store in Burnaby, B.C., on Friday. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Health officials in New Brunswick are worried about a potential shortage of COVID-19 test suppliesPremier Blaine Higgs told CBC’s Power & Politics if the province “ramped up a bit we could be within like a week of running out of test supplies.” Read more about what’s happening in N.B.

Nova Scotia on Thursday extended its state of emergency for another two weeks. The province also announced help for small businesses and a temporary program to help workers who don’t qualify for employment insurance. Read more about what’s happening in Nova Scotia.

Prince Edward Island has announced a $1-million fund to help people not covered by other support programs announced since the COVID-19 crisis began. Read more about what’s happening on P.E.I, and get the latest update from Premier Dennis King.

WATCH | What the COVID-19 pandemic looks like across Canada

A look at how different provinces are handling the COVID-19 pandemic and how the numbers vary. 4:46

Newfoundland and Labrador’s health minister is urging people to prepare for an increase in cases. “We are, from experience of our other jurisdictions, not yet into our likely surge period. This is likely to come over coming weeks, and we are working hard to understand when that might be,” John Haggie said. Read more about what’s happening in N.L.

Northwest Territories health officials have reported two travel-related COVID-19 cases, including one in a small community. The latest cases bring the territory’s case count up to four. Read more about what’s happening across the North.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in the U.S.

From Reuters and The Associated Press, updated at 11:15 a.m. ET

New York has another 630 deaths, bringing the state’s total to 3,565, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a Saturday morning news conference.

“By the numbers we’re not at the apex,” he said. “We’re getting closer.”

Projections for New York say the peak in the number of cases could come within eight days, Cuomo said.

Long Island is becoming a hot spot that now accounts for 22 per cent of all cases in the state.

Cuomo also said he will sign an executive order to allow medical students who were about to graduate to begin practising. “We need doctors,” he said. The American Medical Association (AMA) is urging all U.S. governors to impose stay-at-home orders to fight the spread of COVID-19.

Cuomo also thanked China for donating 1,000 ventilators to the state, which is the epicentre of the pandemic in the United States.

WATCH | Online sobriety meetings pop up during the pandemic:

Video meetings offer community for people struggling with alcohol, isolation, says author/host Laura McKowen. 7:06

Some states and cities that have been shipped masks, gloves, ventilators and other essential equipment from the nation’s medical stockpile to fight the coronavirus have gotten an unwelcome surprise: the material is unusable. Nearly 6,000 medical masks sent to Alabama had dry rot and a 2010 expiration date.

More than 150 ventilators sent to Los Angeles were broken and had to be repaired. In Oregon, it was masks with faulty elastic that could cause the straps to snap, exposing medical workers to the disease.

In Washington, D.C., President Donald Trump on Friday said his administration is encouraging many Americans to wear face masks in public, though he stresses that the recommendation is optional and conceded that he will not be complying with it. 

The latest guidance suggests that Americans use makeshift coverings, such as T-shirts, scarves or bandanas to cover their noses and mouths. Medical-grade masks, especially N95 masks, are to be reserved for those on the front lines of trying to contain the pandemic.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease official, said Friday physical distancing is still the best practice where possible to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. The mayor of Los Angeles has already recommended its citizens there wear masks or cover their faces when out in public.

Here’s a look at what’s happening in hard-hit Italy, Spain and parts of Europe

From The Associated Press and Reuters, updated at 10:00 a.m. ET

Spain saw its coronavirus cases rise to 124,736 on Saturday, up from 117,710 the previous day, the Spanish health ministry reported. The country’s virus-related death toll rose to 11,744, a jump from 10,935 on Friday.

Spain’s health workers have been contracting the COVID-19 virus at a faster rate than any other country, with around 15 per cent of its cases being doctors, nurses and other medical staff. It’s believed the workers have been exposed to contagion due to a shortage of medical supplies.

Paramedics wearing personal protective equipment unload patients at the Hôpital de Verdun’s emergency department on Friday in Montreal. (Jean-Claude Taliana/Radio-Canada)

In Italy, more than 11,000 medical personnel have been infected — just under 10 per cent of the official total — and some 73 doctors have died, according to the National Institutes of Health and the association of doctors, which has kept a running tally of the dead.

The head of Germany’s disease control agency says the number of people who die of COVID-19 is likely being undercounted. Lothar Wieler of the Robert Koch Institute said Friday that he believes “we have more dead than are officially being reported.”

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Wieler was suggesting that deaths are being undercounted only in Germany, or worldwide, and reporters were unable to ask follow-up questions during his online news conference. Germany’s low death rate from coronavirus has drawn international attention. Experts say the difference compared to other countries is partly due to mass testing and well-equipped hospitals, but they caution that the number of deaths is likely to rise.

Nunziatina Luca collects bags with food delivered by Civil Protection, in Rome on Thursday. (Alessandra Tarantino/The Associated Press)

In the U.K., British Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said his thoughts went out to the family of a five-year-old child who died in hospital after being infected.

The United Kingdom’s hospital death toll from the coronavirus rose by 20 per cent to 4,313 on April 3, the health ministry said.

COVID-19 deaths in English hospitals made up 3,939 of the U.S. total. Those who made up the 637 daily rise in English deaths were aged between five years and 104 years old.

Imperial College London epidemiologist Neil Ferguson told the BBC that if the number of cases began to fall soon, the country will likely move toward relying more on testing and becoming “somewhat more relaxed in terms of social distancing.” 

As of Saturday morning, 183,190 people have been tested, of which 41,903 have tested positive, the U.K. Department of Health and Social Care tweeted. As of Friday evening, of those hospitalized in the U.K. for COVID-19, 4,313 have died.

Britain is temporarily releasing about 4,000 inmates to ease crowding and try to slow the spread of the new virus in prisons. The Ministry of Justice says “low-risk” offenders will be freed with electronic tags. People guilty of violent or sexual offences or terrorism will not be eligible for release.

Funeral home workers carry a body from the Vitalia nursing homes in Leganes, Spain, on Friday. (Manu Fernandez/Associated Press)

In Portugal, confirmed coronavirus cases rose past the 10,000 mark on Saturday, with 266 deaths, as Health Minister Marta Temido urged citizens to step up their fight against the outbreak as there was still “no light at the end of the tunnel.”

“This fight is not a 100-metre race, it is a long marathon,” Temido told reporters.

Greece has quarantined a migrant camp after 20 asylum seekers tested positive, the country’s first such facility hit since the outbreak. Police in Greece say they have issued 17,358 fines for people breaking the new restrictions on leaving home since a lockdown began on March 23.

France’s death count has jumped to more than 6,500 — up by more than 1,000 — as authorities are now including victims in homes for the aged. The chief of the country’s national health agency, Jérôme Salomon, says reports from 3,000 establishments for the aged — still far from the total — show 1,416 residents died in the facilities from COVID-19.

The rising figures were announced as 160,000 police officers were deployed to ensure France’s strict confinement measures are respected at what normally would be the start of spring vacation.

A drive-thru farm shop has been opened at Tulley’s Farm in Turners Hill, England, where contact-less payment is taken on the end of a pole to observe physical distancing on Friday. (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

The Netherlands is not in a full lockdown, but bars, restaurants, museums, schools and universities are closed and the government is urging people to stay home and practise social distancing.  Amsterdam is banning boats from its central canals beginning Sunday as authorities fear warm spring weather will lead to overcrowding on the famed waterways. The country’s public health institute on Friday reported 148 new deaths in the outbreak, bringing the Dutch death toll to 1,487.

Here’s a look at China, South Korea and some other areas of concern around the world

From The Associated Press and Reuters, updated at 6:00 a.m. ET

Throughout much of China, people observed a three-minute moment of reflection on Saturday to honour those who died of COVID-19. Air raid sirens wailed and flags were at half-mast. The pandemic was first detected in Wuhan in December.

The city was placed under complete lockdown on Jan. 23 in an effort to stem the spread of the virus and has been lauded as a “heroic city” by the nation’s communist leadership for the sacrifices made by its 11 million citizens.

Chinese police officers bow their heads in silence at the Beijing Railway Station on Saturday to mark the country’s national day of mourning for those who died of COVID-19. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

People have gradually been allowed to travel in and out of Wuhan under strict conditions. The quarantine in the city is to be formally lifted on Wednesday.

China recorded a total of 81,639 cases and 3,326 deaths, although those figures are generally considered to be
understated because of a lack of testing and a reluctance to report the scale of the original outbreak.

Thailand will temporarily ban all passenger flights from landing in the country to curb the outbreak of the virus, starting Saturday. The measure is set to continue until the end of Monday, the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand said in an order published late on Friday.

The South Korean capital of Seoul says it will ask more than 8,500 theatre-goers to self-monitor at home after Canadian and American cast members of The Phantom of the Opera were found to have the coronavirus.

Seoul City official Na Baek-ju said Friday the musical’s international tour was halted following the positive test of an unidentified Canadian actress, who began experiencing throat pain and dry coughs days after she began performing at the city’s Blue Square theatre on March 14. She last appeared on stage on Monday, a day before her test.

Officials have since tested 138 of her contacts, including colleagues and guests at the downtown Somerset Palace hotel, and confirmed the infection of an American actor on Thursday. Na said officials were still awaiting test results for 48 people while the other 89 tested negative. He said the hotel was ordered to prevent guests from leaving the property and stop taking new customers.

South Korea earlier on Friday reported 86 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing its nationwide total to 10,062.

A police officer checks the documents of a driver wearing a mask to ensure nationwide confinement measures are upheld at a highway toll gate in Villefranche our Saone, France, on Friday. (Laurent Cipriani/Associated Press)

Singapore will close schools and most workplaces for a month as it moves to curb the increase of COVID-19 transmissions in the country. Most workplaces, except for essential services and key economic sectors, will be closed from next Tuesday, and schools will be closed from Wednesday. Essential services such as food establishments, markets and supermarkets, clinics, hospitals, utilities, transport and banking services will remain open.

“Looking at the trend, I am worried that unless we take further steps, things will gradually get worse, or another big cluster may push things over the edge,” said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Lee urged residents to stay home and only leave to buy essential items.

The country has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases over the last two weeks, and has routinely reported more than 50 new cases daily. As of Thursday, Singapore had 1,049 cases and five deaths. Singapore has also reversed its recommendations that people should wear masks only if they are feeling unwell.

“We will no longer discourage people from masks. Wearing a mask may help to protect others in case you have the virus but don’t know it,” said Lee, adding that the government will distribute reusable masks to all households as of Sunday.

A taxi is disinfected in Uijeongbu, South Korea, on Friday. (Ahn Young-joon/Associated Press)

Indonesia’s coronavirus death toll rose to 170, passing South Korea as the country with the highest number of recorded fatalities in Asia after China.

More than half of Africa’s 54 countries have closed their land, air and sea borders, while fears rise that the coronavirus-related restrictions are delaying access to critical aid. Humanitarian organizations are now in the extraordinary situation of negotiating humanitarian corridors in peaceful regions. And in Kenya, travel restrictions have delayed the delivery of pesticides needed to fight the most devastating locust outbreak some East African countries have seen in 70 years. A World Food Program official says lockdowns and other restrictions “may affect us very, very much” on a continent where millions of poor people must now stay at home.

Shoppers climb on chairs to buy groceries from vendors behind barriers used to seal off a neighbourhood in Wuhan, China, on Friday. (Ng Han Guan/Associated Press)

India will pull out of a three-week lockdown in phases, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said as officials battle to contain the country’s biggest cluster of infections in New Delhi.

The Middle East has confirmed over 85,000 cases of the virus and over 3,700 deaths, most of them in Iran. Iran state TV reported Friday the virus killed another 134 people, pushing the country’s death toll to nearly 3,300 amid more than 53,000 confirmed cases. Iran’s parliament speaker is among those who have contracted the disease.

Pakistan, with 2,450 confirmed cases and 35 deaths, has been sharply criticized for moving too slow to curb large gatherings, including a gathering of tens of thousands of Muslims from several Islamic countries in March. A gathering of Tableeghi Jamaat missionaries in India is blamed for several outbreaks of the new virus elsewhere in the world. The first confirmed cases that emerged in Gaza were traced to the gathering.

People queue Wednesday to get a free refill of hand sanitizer at a mall amid the spread of COVID-19 in Singapore. (Edgar Su/Reuters)

Australian officials closed internal borders on Friday and warned people to stay home over the upcoming Easter holiday as the country seeks to capitalize on a further fall in the rate of new coronavirus cases.

Turkey is preparing to treat COVID-19 patients with blood donated from people who have survived the disease. Kerem Kinik, the head of the Turkish Red Crescent organization, late Thursday called on “heroes who have come out victorious from the ‘Corona War”‘ to donate blood for the treatment, which uses plasma from people who have recovered to help seriously ill patients. Meanwhile, the Health Ministry sent a circular to the country’s 81 provinces setting out guidelines for the volunteer blood plasma donations, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

Shoppers wait in line to enter a grocery store in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Friday. (Jerome Delay/Associated Press)

Cuban officials say a shipment of coronavirus aid has been blocked by the six-decade U.S. embargo on the island.

Cuba was one of 24 countries in the region meant to receive the donations announced March 21 by a foundation started by China’s richest person, Jack Ma, but officials say the cargo carrier of Colombia-based Avianca Airlines declined to fly the aid to Cuba because its major shareholder is a U.S.-based company subject to the trade embargo on Cuba.

The embargo has exceptions for food and medical aid, but companies are often afraid to carry out related financing or transportation due to the risk of fines or prosecution.

Human-rights groups have been calling for the U.S. to lift sanctions on Venezuela, Cuba and Iran during the pandemic in order to permit the flow of more aid. The Trump administration has argued only the countries’ governments would benefit from the sanctions relief.

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