Quebec in the thick of fight for essential medical equipment to fight COVID-19
Current stockpile will last about a week, says premier
By Sidhartha Banerjee
MONTREAL — Quebec’s premier says his province is in the thick of a global battle to secure much-needed medical equipment to protect against COVID-19.
Francois Legault said Thursday that the province has recently received orders of personal protective equipment — masks, gloves and gowns — and has a stockpile to last about seven days.
But it will need more — including millions of masks, tens of millions of gloves and other gear used daily in hospitals.
Legault said he’s aware of the competition for medical supplies between countries and assured that Quebec and Canada are fully engaged, using contacts and third-party sources to secure material.
“It’s true that they play hardball in certain countries,” he said, “but we’re in the game too …. That means sometimes you have to arrive with cash, you have to have police, you have to follow the whole transportation.”
He urged the public not to worry. “We are doing everything we can to make sure that the orders we place go to our hospitals here in Quebec,” he said.
Legault downplayed a report in the Journal de Montreal about an order of 10,000 masks that went missing. A Quebec company imported the masks for use in the province, but they ended up in Ohio without explanation.
“We were talking about 10,000 masks, we don’t refuse any equipment, but, you know, 10,000 masks compared to our daily consumption, it’s a small amount,” he said. He added that Quebec is working with the federal government to ensure supplies needed in Canada are not diverted to the United States.
Asked about reports of the United States outbidding other countries to acquire needed supplies, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters in Ottawa the federal government is working on the issue. She said Canada has “good collaboration” with the United States.
Legault declined to detail exactly what Quebec has ordered, but he offered up an example of the material needed.
“We use hundreds of thousands of masks per day,” Legault said. “So, the orders we are looking for are orders of millions.”
He said he’s optimistic about procuring what the province needs and is hopeful that some items, such as gowns, can be made locally by Quebec companies using slightly different materials.
The premier also said the province has enough respirators to get through even a worst-case scenario.
“So, there is no question of starting to choose people who will be given a respirator and then others who won’t — there will be enough for everyone,” he said.
Legault made the comments as the province reported another jump in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases to 5,518, a one-day increase of 907 in the province.
36 deaths in Quebec
The province also reported three more deaths, bringing the provincial total to 36.
Legault noted Quebec is in better shape than some U.S. states, where COVID-19 cases have exploded.
Earlier this week, Health Minister Danielle McCann said the province had gone through a year’s worth of equipment in a month. And while the orders that have come in recently are smaller amounts, Legault is hopeful more is expected to arrive in the coming days.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Canada has received about 11.6 million masks this week, and another 700,000 from the federal stockpile are being dispersed to provinces, partly based on proportion of population and partly on the basis of need.
Hajdu said provinces are able to secure orders themselves, but she encouraged provinces and territories to engage in bulk procurement, giving Canada more clout to bid competitively.
Legault also called on Quebec police to crackdown on those flouting public health directives aimed at fighting COVID-19: the closure of non-essential businesses and not adhering to physical distancing rules.
The premier warned those not abiding by the rules will be subject to fines ranging from $1,000 to $6,000.
“If someone still thought it wasn’t serious, it’s time to wake up,” Legault said.