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Toronto Star

Canadian industries will make 30,000 ventilators for COVID-19 battle

Apr 07, 2020 11:31:38 AM

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Justin Trudeau’s call for help from Canadian manufacturers, engineers and scientists has led to an early batch of deals to see another 30,000 new ventilators and millions of protective medical gowns produced in Canada, starting in the weeks ahead.

The 30,000 more ventilators to be put into production in short order comes on top of previously announced plans to build 10,500 ventilators through a federal deal with an Ontario company, and on top of provincial deals, such as Premier Doug Ford has recently made.

There are currently about 5,000 ventilators in Canada, federal officials have said.

In his daily briefing Tuesday, Trudeau said the scope of the order doesn’t necessarily reflect the government’s projections for how many Canadians will need them.

“We recognize that 30,000 is a large number of ventilators,” he said. “We certainly hope we do not get anywhere near that number.”

But he said “we need to be ready for any circumstances,” including the need to help other countries.

“For us, doing more right now, doing quicker right now, is really the only option.”

The federal government continues to look at other proposals as well, Innovation, Science and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains said earlier in an exclusive interview with the Star.

“We’re trying to build as many as possible,” he said. “If we have more solutions coming in the next few days and we can scale it, we will do that.”

Canada is still trying to bulk-purchase ventilators from countries such as China. But as the competition for those supplies tightens, Ottawa has refused to specify exactly how many machines, masks and other products it is trying to snap up on the world market.

“It’s buy, buy, buy, build, build, build,” Bains said.

Bains said the made-in-Canada ventilators — which are crucial life support for some COVID-19 patients — will be first used to meet Canadian needs, but will also be made available to other countries to help fight the global pandemic.

“We recognize that the situation will get worse before it gets better, so we want to build capacity within Canada,” he said. “But if we’re fortunate enough to meet domestic needs in a timely manner, then we need to also recognize we have an obligation to other jurisdictions, that this is a global pandemic.”

Bains said “I’d rather have more ventilators, more gowns and more masks, and I’d rather make sure our front line health care workers have more support not less, and if we’re in a position to help other countries, I’d rather do that.

“That’s the mindset of how we’re mobilizing efforts.”

More than 5,000 replies poured in from Canadian companies and individuals who volunteered ideas for domestic solutions to a global health crisis that has threatened vital life-saving supply chains.

Bains said his department set up an ad hoc committee of industry, science and health experts to “triage” the most promising projects to be developed with Canadian parts and technology.

It came up with 11 “really meaningful solutions, especially ventilators” in the last few days, and has signed letters of intent with four companies or groups of companies for ventilators, and 22 companies who will switch production to make medical-grade protective gowns for front line health workers.

Those include agreements with Thornhill Medical, which had already agreed last week to supply 10,500 machines; the Canadian aerospace and defence supply and training company CAE; a group called Ventilators for Canadians; and a group led by StarFish Medical, a Victoria-based medical device and technology company and auto-parts maker Linamar.

The federal government set aside $2 billion on Mar. 20 to mobilize domestic production of medical supplies, personal protective equipment, and diagnostic treatment and vaccine research in the fight against COVID-19.

Bains said 90 per cent of the 5,000 submissions have been looked at and the government will keep analyzing what can do to bring relief to a health care system under strain, here and abroad.

He said he will soon announce more projects to deal with vaccine research and development.

Under the first tranche of deals, everything for the ventilator projects — from the parts and materials to the intellectual property rights — will come from Canadian sources.

That includes a Winnipeg respiratory specialist’s model of a ventilator he designed 30 years ago and kept in his basement. It was built decades ago by the company Cerebra and was widely used in hospital ICUs in the 1990s and 2000s, and during the SARS epidemic of 2003.

Officials in Bains’s department paired Dr. Magdy Younes with Victoria-base StarFish Medical, which flew two of its experts to Winnipeg to look at the machine.

They modernized the machine’s design and said they can begin production “in the thousands” within weeks, not months, said Bains.

Bains said the federal government has also signed agreements with two companies — Intertape in Nova Scotia, which makes construction house-wrap, and AutoLiv of Tilbury, Ont., which makes car airbags — to produce protective material for medical gowns.

Bains has signed anther 22 letters of intent with Canadian apparel manufacturers like Arc’teryx and Canada Goose to make medical gowns using those materials.

Medical gowns come in a range of materials to prevent infection transmission when doctors or nurses come in contact with blood or bodily fluids, and those materials have generally come from outside Canada, said Bains.

These are just the first projects that show immediate promise to repatriate to Canada production of essential medical supplies for doctors and nurses on the front lines, he said.

In another promising project, Ottawa says a Nobel Prize-winning researcher, Dr. Art McDonald, is leading a team of scientists to develop an easy-to-produce ventilator using off-the-shelf, easily accessible parts.

It’s now a race against time as the competition for medical supplies pits nation against nation.

Even once-reliable allies like the U.S. are desperate to care for their own citizens, with President Donald Trump threatening to choke off exports.

Trump eased his tone Monday night, suggesting Minnesota-based 3M would be permitted to fulfil at least part of its Canadian orders for medical-grade N95 respirator masks.

Even with all the federal dollars flowing out the door, the need to support some 12,000 Canadian high tech companies is great.

On Tuesday, the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance warned the economic crash is killing many of the country’s technology firms. It called for immediate federal aid, saying Ottawa must quickly release some $200 million in funding for companies which had previously applied for grants through science, research and experimental development funding.

“We are learning of heartbreaking stories of how rapidly businesses are collapsing and laying off workers. In some cases revenues and investment are frozen and large US firms are already scooping up top tech talent and looking to acquire companies. Emergency funds are needed in days, not weeks,” the Alliance said in a statement.

It also asked Ottawa to provide zero-interest loans with forgivable portions to companies with proven track records. It said the federal government can use tax data from the existing research funding program which shows which firms can be pre-qualified, and sent an open letter to Trudeau of what it says is a simple, fast and auditable solution” to protect Canadian intellectual property, plus protect 85,000 jobs.

Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc

The latest COVID-19 data from Canada and around the world. Check here for updates on cases and deaths

Apr 07, 2020 12:00:00 PM

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Note: The Toronto Star is calculating numbers for Ontario based on real-time reports from individual public health units. The numbers are generally ahead of those reported by the Ministry of Health and may not match those reported elsewhere including in individual articles published previously.

Cameron Tulk is the lead digital designer at the Star, based in Toronto. Reach him via email: ctulk@thestar.ca.

Nathan Pilla is a digital designer at the Star, based in Toronto. Reach him via email: npilla@torstar.ca

Andres Plana is a digital designer at the Star, based in Toronto. Reach him via email: aplana@torstar.ca

McKenna Deighton is a digital designer at the Star, based in Toronto. Reach her via email: mdeighton@torstar.ca

Ford touts Ontario-made N96 mask similar to the N95 gear used to fight COVID-19 and held up by Trump

Apr 07, 2020 11:05:00 AM

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In a bid to avert shortages of foreign-made medical gear due to COVID-19, Premier Doug Ford is praising Ontario manufacturers that are stepping into the breach.

Ford on Tuesday touted a new locally made N96 respirator mask that is as good or better than 3M’s N95 masks in such high demand due to the pandemic.

“Today, I visited Woodbridge’s manufacturing facility in Vaughan to receive the province’s first batch of personal protective equipment (PPE) produced right here in Ontario,” the premier said.

“Woodbridge together with the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association has been working at an unprecedented pace to retool their factories and get the required approvals to manufacture masks for our front lineworkers,” said Ford.

“I was thrilled to see firsthand the fruition of their hard work and look forward to them ramping up production in the coming days to meet the demands of Ontario and soon other parts of the country,” he said

“As the world faces a global shortage of medical equipment, Ontario-based companies have stepped up in a big way in order to ensure our front line workers are protected against COVID-19.Their hard work is a true testament to what Ontarians are capable of when we band together. “

Ford stressed that Queen’s Park and Ottawa are still striving “to pursue and exhaust every avenue available to secure the PPE needed to fight COVID-19.”

“(But) today marks the beginning of Ontario moving toward greater self-sufficiency on vital supplies that will keep us well equipped now and into the future.”

Over the weekend, Woodbridge received approval from Health Canada to begin manufacturing “ASTM Level 3” masks that are designed for medical procedures where moderate to heavy amounts of fluid, spray or aerosols are produced.

That certification means the Woodbridge mask has equal or greater than 98 per cent “bacterial filtration efficiency.”

The GTA firm is now seeking U.S. certification for its product, which will be manufactured in Vaughan and Kitchener.

On Monday night, 3M announced it had reached a deal with the White House to ensure that N95 masks could still be imported to Canada despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s embargo on such equipment.

Ford and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland have been furiously lobbying American officials for days to seek an exemption for Canada from Trump’s protectionist move.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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