Premier Jason Kenney is calling on "Alberta spirit” to overcome the COVID-19 crisis after U.S. President Donald Trump announced Friday he would be banning the export of medical supplies.
“If you are a manufacturer, if you produce goods that could be in any way useful to this fight against the pandemic we ask you to come forward, offer your help and show us the kind of Alberta spirit in innovation, in production, that we can generate to help fight the pandemic,” Kenney said in his COVID-19 update Friday afternoon.
News first broke the United States could be moving toward cutting off exports of personal protective equipment like masks, gloves and N95 masks as more than 7,000 Americans have died and 270,000 have become infected with the novel coronavirus that is sweeping the globe. Manufacturer 3M issued a statement Friday morning saying the U.S. government had asked them to stop exporting respirators to Canada and Latin America.
“There are, however, significant humanitarian implications of ceasing respirator supplies to healthcare workers in Canada and Latin America, where we are a critical supplier of respirators," the statement warned.
“In addition, 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. If that were to occur, the net number of respirators being made available to the United States would actually decrease. That is the opposite of what we and the Administration, on behalf of the American people, both seek.”
In Canada, as of Friday there have been 11,747 cases of COVID-19 and 152 deaths.
As cases continue to climb, on Friday afternoon Trump said he would be signing a directive invoking the Defence Production Act to prohibit the export of “scarce” medical supplies.
“We need these items immediately for domestic use, we have to have them,” Trump said.
In his morning address, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “it would be a mistake to create blockages or reduce the amount of back and forth trade of essential goods and services including medical goods across our border.”
He announced the Canadian government had signed an agreement with Amazon Canada to distribute medical supplies to the provinces and territories, and that the federal government is working with local industry to produce the supplies needed “like masks, face shields, gowns, ventilators and test kits.”
In an afternoon press conference, Kenney said Trump’s decision was insulting to Canadians, and “short-sighted” as the United States is a net importer of this kind of medical equipment.
“I would remind him about Canada’s solidarity following 911 and in the global fight against terrorism. We have made very real sacrifices to stand by our American friends and allies. As a Canadian, I am insulted by the decision announced today to block the export of critically needed medical equipment that we need to fight the pandemic here in this country," Kenney said.
The premier said the provincial government has been working to order supplies from many different countries because of threats to supply lines.
He said Trump's statement also underscores "why we must produce our own.”
“We can’t even count on our closest friend and ally," Kenney said.
This is why, in part, the provincial government announced the Bits and Pieces Program, modelled off of a program created during the Second World War which co-ordinated production and procurement efforts from across the nation to support the war effort.
The Bits and Pieces Program calls on industry, organizations and individuals in every corner of Alberta who think they can help by providing goods and services to strengthen Alberta’s response to the COVID-19 crisis to step forward.
In the last week, after a soft launch of the program, the Emergency Management Agency has received approximately 1,100 offers of support from groups “big and small,” including ATCO offering several hundred trailers that could be used for testing, treatment and quarantine as needed, distilleries and breweries making hand sanitizer, and PCL and IKEA donating nearly 5,000 masks combined.
“Victory will depend on the strength of our entire society," Kenney said.
In Alberta, chief medical officer of health Deena Hinshaw said there have been 107 new cases reported since Thursday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 to 1,075. Thus far, 18 people have died, with five deaths happening since Thursday.
One of those deaths includes a 20-year-old Edmonton woman. Hinshaw said it is not clear if she had underlying conditions.
“This is a tragic reminder that it is not only the elderly or those with underlying conditions who are at risk. The measures we have in place are to protect all of us," Hinshaw said.
While the Alberta government is working on releasing modeling data sometime next week, Hinshaw said it appears as though Alberta is not seeing a rapid rise in local transmission.
That said, she urged continued discipline and said public health measures such as physical distancing could continue for months.