Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to the media about the COVID-19 pandemic during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, March 20, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Trudeau unveils new measures to mobilize industry in COVID-19 fight

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a new plan Friday to harness the power of Canada’s industrial capacity and technological know-how to help fight the spread of COVID-19 and boost the health sector’s stockpile of life-saving supplies and equipment.

The plan will provide financial support to Canadian manufacturers to retool their assembly lines to make ventilators, masks and other personal protective gear, diagnostic and testing products, and disease tracking technology, Trudeau said.

The federal plan will also help those already making such products to quickly scale up manufacturing capacity, Trudeau said.

“Canada is home to some of the best innovators in the world and, with this new initiative, we will harness their talent and know-how to get through these challenging times,” Trudeau said outside his Rideau Cottage home on Friday, where he remains in self-isolation after his wife tested for COVID-19.

Increasing domestic supply

Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand speaks as Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains listens during a press conference on COVID-19 in West Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Friday, March 20, 2020. (Justin Tang/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Industry Minister Navdeep Bains said the country’s entire industrial policy will be refocused to prioritize the fight against COVID-19.

That means major funds meant to help companies innovate, including the Strategic Innovation Fund, and the country’s research institutions, such as the National Research Council of Canada, will help companies of all sizes accelerate research and development of products and services that could be useful as more Canadians become infected.

“Our objective is to increase domestic supply so that we have Canadian solutions ready to protect Canadians,” Bains said. “We’re putting the full weight of the government behind this plan.”

The federal government will use existing supply arrangements and innovative, flexible procurement approaches, said Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand.

Ottawa is also reaching out to suppliers to identify and purchase equipment, supplies, and services needed for Canada’s response to COVID-19, she said.

Last week, the federal government released a request on its Buy and Sell website asking companies to identify what goods they manufacture that might be of use to the government as it combats COVID-19, and what quantities they currently have in stock, Anand said.

The government has received over 5,800 submissions so far, she added.

11 million masks ordered

Nurses put on protective gear in a ward designated for new patents infected with the coronavirus in a hospital in Budapest, Hungary, Monday, March 16, 2020. Veterans from the frontlines of infectious disease see three potential challenges looming in the care of Canada’s sickest COVID-19 patients: intensive care space, surplus ventilators and keeping specialized staff healthy. (Zsolt Szigetvary/THE CANADIAN PRESS/MTI via AP)

Anand said that an additional 11.3 million N95 respirator masks have been ordered and are in the process of being delivered to the front-line health staff who rely on them to protect themselves and their patients. Additional personal protective gear is also on its way, she said.

Canada’s Chief Medical Officer Theresa Tam said federal health officials have already placed orders for 550 respiratory ventilators to help care for critically ill patients.

Bains said the government has signed three letters of intent: with Montreal-based Medicom, to produce N95 masks; with Spartan, an Ottawa company that will develop a portable diagnostic device to provide rapid test results for COVID-19; and with Toronto’s Thornhill Medical, which will scale up its current production of ventilators.

The auto industry is ready to step up

President of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association (APMA) Flavio Volpe speaks to the media on the second day of talks during the sixth round of the North American Free Trade Agreement in Montreal, on Jan. 24, 2018. Volpe says the shift to medical supplies would be easy enough for the Canadian auto sector to do, and they could convert back to automotive manufacturing quickly. (Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Trudeau praised the efforts of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association (APMA) that has been working on having auto parts manufacturers adapt to produce medical supplies.

“Their response has been overwhelming from model auto parts makers we’re in. Just get us the specs,” APMA president Flavio Volpe told CBC News.

The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters (CME) also welcomed the industry mobilization plan.

“Canadian manufacturers want to play a critical role in supporting Canada’s response to the COVID-19 crisis. They can and want to contribute to flattening the outbreak curve,” said CME President and CEO Dennis Darby, in a statement.

“We are pleased the government is adopting CME’s recommendation of helping to scale-up businesses that are already part of the supply chain, which will enable a rapid response from businesses,” said Darby.

With files from CBC News

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