COVID-19 in Sask: Premier wants more local manufacturing of protective medical equipment

Saskatchewan’s premier says Canada needs to start manufacturing personal protective equipment locally to ensure it can meet demand from medical workers as they continue to fight on the front line of the pandemic.

The remarks came on Friday, after U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration invoked the Defence Production Act — which allows the president to boost industrial production of critically needed goods — meaning the manufacturer 3M is under orders not to send U.S.-made masks to other countries, such as Canada.

Premier Scott Moe said that move is “nothing short of a betrayal.” However, the premier said he was pushing for local production even before Trump’s order. 

“Traditionally we have relayed on our supply chains from around the world when it comes to some of our health-care supplies,” he said.

“I think we do need to have a very serious discussion about having them manufactured. We have the capability to do that here, not just in Saskatchewan, but in other areas of Canada.” 

Health-care systems around the globe are seeking personal protective equipment like gloves, gowns and N95 masks, as well as equipment like ventilators, Moe said, suggested that may be the reasoning behind decisions like Trump’s on Friday.

He says provincial leaders across the country are working together with the manufacturing sector to find out whether  some production can be shifted over to produce protective and medical equipment.

Premier Scott Moe and Dr. Saqib Shahab speak to reporters on April 3, 2020. During the press conference, Premier Moe said Canada should be manufacturing more COVID-19 equipment like N95 masks and ventilators. (Saskatchewan Media Pool )

“We are encouraged by that conversation and the individuals that are involved and we look forward to ultimately having some results with Canadian manufacturing of some of the masks, some of the ventilators and such,” said Moe. 

As of Friday, Saskatchewan had a total of 220 cases of COVID-19, with 14 new cases being reported that day.  Three people are in hospital, including one in an ICU, and three people have died in the province because of the illness.

Forty-eight people have been listed as recovered.

To date, there have been a total of 12,112 COVID-19 tests done in the province. 

More transparency promised

On Friday evening, Premier Moe said the government of Saskatchewan will be releasing more information around COVID-19 plans for Saskatchewan next week.

In a tweet, the premier said models and projections on the spread of COVID-19 will be publicly released. He also said the province will provide an update on the steps the health system is taking to expand capacity to handle surges due to COVID-19.

A graph prepared by the provincial government details the number of cases that have been emerging in Saskatchewan since the first case was confirmed on March 11, 2020. (Supplied/Government of Saskatchewan)

The president of the province’s nurses union, Tracy Zambory, previously said a lack of transparency from the government of Saskatchewan has been “very frustrating,” with front-line staff feeling they have been left in the dark on the availability of personal protective equipment and long-term plans for the pandemic moving forward.

In March, a document leaked to media outlined the province’s initial projections for COVID-19, which warned that the illness “will almost certainly overwhelm” the province’s health system.

Order to stop shipping may have consequences: 3M

Following President Trump’s order under the Defence Production Act, the manufacturing firm 3M issued a release saying the move could have “significant humanitarian implications,” as it is a “critical supplier of the respirators.” 

The company, which employs 90,000 people across the globe, also said the move could result in blowback.

“Ceasing all export of respirators produced in the United States would likely cause other countries to retaliate and do the same, as some have already done,” the company said in the release.

“If that were to occur, the net number of respirators being made available to the United States would actually decrease.” 

Millions of masks coming to Canada 

On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed the dispute during his daily briefing, stating that failing to send supplies destined for Canada “could end up hurting Americans as much as it hurts anybody else.”

But the prime minister said Saturday that he wasn’t seeking retaliatory measures against the U.S. — such as blocking Canadian nurses from Windsor, Ont., from travelling across the American border to Detroit.

“We are not looking at retaliatory measures or measures that are punitive. We know that it is in both of our interests to continue to work collaboratively and co-operatively,” Trudeau said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses Canadians on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Friday, April 3, 2020. (Sean Kilpatrick / Canadian Press)

The prime minister said Saturday a shipment of millions of masks will be arriving in Canada within the next 48 hours on a chartered cargo flight.

He said the government is also working with provinces to transport their medical supplies where possible, noting supplies for Quebec will be arriving on the charter.
An update on cases in Saskatchewan is set to be released on Saturday afternoon.