A Syrian refugee woman holds a bag of gloves, due to coronavirus spread, in al-Wazzani area in southern Lebanon, March 14, 2020. United Nations chief Antonio Guterres said the international community must to everything it can "to prevent COVID-19 from wreaking havoc in places with limited health care capacity and resilience." (Ali Hashisho /REUTERS)

Canada ready to answer UN’s COVID-19 emergency funding request, says Trudeau

Canada will answer the United Nations’ urgent appeal for a $2 billion global humanitarian response plan to fund the fight against COVID-19 in the world’s poorest countries, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres launched the appeal on Wednesday, saying the virus “is arriving in countries already in the midst of humanitarian crises caused by conflicts, natural disasters and climate change.”

People in those countries often live in cramped refugee camps where they do not have the means to self-isolate, lack clean water and soap to wash their hands, and do not have access to hospital beds and ventilators if they become seriously ill, the UN chief added.

“The world is only as strong as our weakest health system,” Guterres said. “If we do not act decisively now, I fear the virus will establish a foothold in the most fragile countries, leaving the whole world vulnerable as it continues to circle the planet, paying no mind to borders.”

‘Canada will be there to participate’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses Canadians on the COVID-19 situation from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Speaking at his daily briefing from the porch of his home at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Trudeau said Canada has already set aside money for international assistance as part of its $1 billion COVID-19 Response Fund.

“We, of course, will work with the UN, continue to work with international partners on financial support to ensure that we can respond to this global pandemic with global resources,” Trudeau said.

“Canada will be there to participate.”

The federal government has already earmarked $8 million of the $50 million spending package announced as part of its COVID-19 Response Fund on March 11 to groups such as the World Health Organization, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross to help them fight the pandemic.

Trudeau said he has also been in contact with several world leaders since the outbreak, including with Rwandan President Paul Kagame, President of Senegal Macky Sall and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed over the last two days.

Trudeau offered Canada’s support “through advice and international assistance to help vulnerable countries respond to COVID-19’s devastating impacts,” according to readouts of his conversations with African leaders released by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Global shortage of medical equipment and protective gear

Members of rescue services and firefighters present different versions of protective suits and equipment at a media event during the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Cologne, Germany, March 19, 2020. Countries around the world are scrambling to procure and produce lifesaving medical equipment and protective clothing to deal with COVID-19 (Thilo Schmuelgen/REUTERS)

However, health experts warn that as wealthy countries scramble to buy medical and protective equipment for their own needs, poorer countries face not only financial obstacles in procuring these supplies but also a worldwide shortage of basic emergency medical and protective equipment, such as ventilators, masks, overalls, and testing kits.

As Canada ramps up production of emergency medical and protective equipment to meet the growing need for it in the country, the federal government also recognizes that there is a big demand for such equipment around the world, Trudeau said.

“Canada will be part of the solution, not just to make sure that Canada has all the equipment and supplies needed for our citizens should the situation get worse, but we will have, hopefully, equipment and supplies to share with the vulnerable parts of the world that will desperately need help,” Trudeau said.

According to statistics compiled by John Hopkins University, there were over 440,000 cases of COVID-19 in 172 countries around the world on Wednesday. The virus has killed over 19,700 people worldwide with the majority of cases concentrated in Italy, Spain, China and Iran.

Canada was reporting roughly 3,290 cases and 30 deaths as of Wednesday morning.

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