The federal government says it has established a national supply council tasked with improving Canada’s efforts to procure equipment and other tools to halt the spread of COVID-19 as provinces take early steps to reopen businesses shuttered by the crisis.
Procurement Minister Anita Anand said Sunday that the COVID-19 supply council is intended to strengthen the country’s existing supply chains for items like masks, gloves and disinfectants.
It will also improve sourcing, production, shipping and distribution strategies for those goods.
“From start to finish — from manufacturer to arrival or production in Canada — what is it that we can be doing differently to ensure that we have proper and effective and efficient procurements within our government and across the country?” Anand said.
The news was part of a string of announcements Sunday, including a new $240-million commitment to bring mental health and primary care services online, and a one-time top-up to the Canada child benefit that will see eligible families receive an extra $300 per child as part of their regular May payment.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also revealed an additional $175 million for the Vancouver-based biotech firm AbCellera, a company he said has identified antibodies for use in potential drugs to treat the novel coronavirus. The funding is expected to help the company carry out human trials, which Trudeau said could begin as early as July.
“Until we have effective treatments, or better yet a vaccine, we’ll still need a reliable supply of everything from masks to ventilators,” he said.
Health Canada restricts use of COVID-19 rapid test
Canada’s plans to bolster its stock of medical and protective equipment comes as the country has been dealt a blow regarding its rapid-testing capabilities.
Health Canada says it’s restricting the use of a rapid COVID-19 test created by an Ottawa company after the National Microbiology Lab found problems with the test that made it unreliable.
“In light of the clinical results, Health Canada has placed conditions on the company’s authorization to restrict the use of the product to research use only until adequate evidence of clinical performance can be provided,” the federal agency said in an emailed statement.
Spartan Bioscience said Sunday that the concerns centre around the proprietary swab used in the test — which was promised to deliver results in as little as 30 minutes — but that the agency did not raise concerns about the accuracy of the test reagents and portable analyzer device.
The company said it would recall the 5,500 tests shipped nationally and work on additional clinical studies to assess the sampling method and swab.
“While the … device performed very well in a laboratory setting — and along the specifications that the manufacturer had provided — it was in the real-life setting, the clinical setting, where it didn’t perform well,” Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Sunday.
Tam said she didn’t expect the setback to affect the country’s goal of conducting 60,000 tests per day, or the provinces’ initial reopening attempts, because the tests were not yet in use.
“There is no exact right pathway down this slope and into the new realities of living with COVID-19,” Tam said.
She added that provinces will need to keep a close eye on decreases in the numbers of positive cases and be willing to re-evaluate their plans if those figures begin to rise.
Ontario is getting ready to allow a number of seasonal businesses and some essential construction projects to resume Monday, while Quebec — the province hit hardest by the pandemic — will start to reopen more retail stores.
Other provinces are easing restrictions more widely: Manitoba’s strategy includes opening dental clinics for urgent procedures and permitting restaurants to open their patios at half their normal capacity.
WATCH | Procurement minister on supply council and test restrictions:
‘Important to have even more’ equipment: Trudeau
It’s the easing of those restrictions, Trudeau said, that makes it critical for Canada to improve its procurement processes.
“We recognize that as the economy starts to open in different places and in different ways, it is going to be important to have even more [personal protective equipment],” Trudeau said. “That’s why we need to do everything we can to ensure we’re getting the right procurement.”
Anand was able to provide some additional updates to Canada’s procurement efforts Sunday.
“Our first shipment of face shields began to come in this week, with more than 740,000 received to date, half of which were produced here in Canada,” the minister said.
She also announced a new contract that would see 15.5 million more face shields added to Canada’s stockpile, an agreement with the Montreal-based Medicom for 20 million N95 respirators and 80 million surgical masks over the next 10 years, and a deal with another Quebec company for 11 million medical gowns.
Online platforms coming for mental health and primary care
The federal government is also taking steps to move mental health and primary care services online to combat concerns over mental and physical wellbeing during the COVID-19 crisis.
In announcing the initiative, Trudeau said a new virtual mental health platform will provide strategies for managing stress, with specific help for those from marginalized communities.
Money will also be funnelled into providing virtual primary care for patients who don’t need to visit a doctor’s office.
“By helping doctors run appointments online, you can stay safe at home while getting care, and our hospitals can stay focused on those who need it most,” Trudeau said. “If we can use apps to order dinner and videochats to stay in touch with family, we can use new technology to keep each other healthy.”
Last month, Health Minister Patty Hajdu unveiled an online portal aimed at linking Canadians of all ages to support workers and mental health professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The launch came as some experts warned of an “echo pandemic” — a secondary public health crisis revolving around mental illness and substance use due to the widespread financial, social and health impacts of the novel coronavirus.