Heather Wright, Brooklyn Neustaeter, CTV News
March 20, 2020

TORONTO — As a critical shortage of life-saving medical equipment looms amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada is calling on its manufacturers to re-tool their factories in a “war-like effort” to help fill demand.

The federal government has issued a national call asking businesses to offer products and services in support of Canada’s response to the new novel coronavirus.

Doctors say Canadian hospitals are facing a shortage of supplies including ventilators, masks, gloves and gowns needed to protect healthcare workers as they treat the anticipated surge in COVID-19 patients.

“We are running short on supplies and given that we are just at the beginning of this crisis, we’re quite fearful of what is going to happen if we run out of supplies,” Dr. Michelle Cohen said in a Skype interview from Burlington, Ont. with CTV’s Heather Wright.

More than 60 doctors have written an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, premiers and health ministers warning of a medical supply shortage and urging them to “mount a war-like effort” to drastically increase production.

Trudeau has hinted at new measures to come, including involving industry and the military in the production of ventilators, masks and other personal protective gear, The Canadian Press reports.

“We’ve heard from businesses from coast-to-coast-to-coast who are telling us they want to help,” Trudeau said Thursday.

“Yes, we are considering using any measures necessary to ensure that Canadians and our health-care systems have the supports they need. We’ve already been engaged with industry on production and ramping up capacity to build and create more equipment. We will, of course, look at military procurement as a solution as well.”

The novel coronavirus has brought attention to the global supply of ventilators — medical devices that allow people experiencing difficulty breathing to receive oxygen.

As more cases are diagnosed in Canada, demand for the machine also increases.

Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association (APMA), said more than a dozen Canadian manufacturers are ready to retrofit their factories to produce medical equipment.

“With our capacity — like in wartime — all these factories can be mobilized to make everything from gowns and masks, to ventilators,” Volpe said.

However, Volpe says the businesses need specifications from the ventilator companies before they can get started.

“We have people, we have factories, we have the government, we just need the intellectual property,” he said.

The federal government says it is working to reach an agreement with medical device companies to produce ventilators.

According to a national study following the H1N1 outbreak, Canada had approximately 5,000 ventilators in 2015. It’s not clear how many are available in Canadian hospitals today.

Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said there has been no specific request for ventilators yet, but the federal government is trying to pre-empt that by acquiring supplies that may be needed as the number of cases surge.

Prime Minister Trudeau said the federal government is also expediting access to COVID-19 test kits and other medical devices.

Canada’s Health Minister Patty Hajdu reiterated, in a statement released Wednesday, that Canada has a stockpile of critical supplies that can be moved from province-to-province depending on need.

“COVID-19 is a rapidly evolving global health crisis, and we have been working around the clock with provinces and territories to make sure everyone has what they need to continue to detect and interrupt the chain of transmission,” Hajdu said in the statement.

The health minister’s comments came after the World Health Organization called on countries to ramp up production of protective gear and tests for the virus.

Health Canada has waived some of its usual regulatory requirements to increase supplies of hand sanitizers, disinfectants, swabs and protective equipment such as masks and gowns, The Canadian Press reports.

Due to “unprecedented demand” for such products, Health Canada said it will temporarily allow them to be sold in this country even if they don’t meet the normal regulatory requirements.

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