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N95 respiration masks sit in a 3M lab in Maplewood, Minn., on March 4, 2020.

Nicholas Pfosi/Reuters

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says 500,000 masks that were held up by U.S. officials will now make their way to the province, as he pushed for an exemption to the American order on exporting critical equipment.

Mr. Ford told reporters at Queen’s Park on Monday that the province has placed two orders for four million N95 masks from the United States, but only 500,000 have been released.

Ontario is facing a critical shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and gloves, for front-line health-care workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic. Only about a week of supply remains in the province, Mr. Ford’s office said, blaming the shortage on delays in global shipments and “recent restrictions” at the Canada-U.S. border.

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“We’re all working around the clock on these items. So I have a little bit of optimism right now that we’re going to get this resolved with the U.S. government,” Mr. Ford said.

Last week, the United States stopped the export of masks from Minnesota-based 3M to Canada. U.S President Donald Trump issued an executive order granting the Federal Emergency Management Agency the power to “allocate to domestic use” several types of medical PPE that would otherwise be exported.

That matter appeared somewhat resolved late Monday, when 3M announced that it had made a deal with the Trump administration that will allow it to resume exporting N95 respirators to Canada and Latin America.

Under the terms of the deal, 3M will import 166.5 million respirators from China over the next three months to supply the U.S., the company said. In exchange, the Trump administration will lift its ban on 3M exporting American-made masks to other countries.

“The plan will also enable 3M to continue sending U.S. produced respirators to Canada and Latin America, where 3M is the primary source of supply,” the company said in a statement.

Mr. Trump, who last week bashed 3M on Twitter and invoked the Defense Production Act to stop them exporting, lauded it as “a great company.”

“We have reached an agreement, very amicable agreement with 3M,” Mr. Trump told the daily White House coronavirus briefing.

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Neither the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Department of Homeland Security or Department of Health and Human Services – the three U.S. government departments named in Mr. Trump’s executive order last week allowing officials to shut down imports – responded to questions on whether they were stopping any other companies from exporting to Canada.

Coronavirus guide: Updates and essential resources about the COVID-19 pandemic

How many coronavirus cases are there in Canada, by province, and worldwide? The latest maps and charts

What are the coronavirus rules in my province? A quick guide to what’s allowed and open, or closed and banned

Over the weekend, a shipment of three million masks from manufacturer 3M was held up by U.S. officials in South Dakota, Mr. Ford said. He said he spoke with U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer on the weekend, as well as Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland about the issue on Monday. Mr. Ford said the 500,000 shipment will “buy us another week.”

“We just need the federal government in the U.S. to exempt us, and I think we’re getting extremely, extremely close,” Mr. Ford said.

Mr. Ford said the province has ramped up local manufacturing of critical PPE, with supplies “weeks away” from being delivered to front-line health-care workers.

The federal government has been talking to American officials after reports that a shipment of millions of N95 masks bound for Ontario was held at the U.S.-Canada border, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says. The Canadian Press

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday that his government is speaking with U.S. officials to emphasize that health-care supplies are “very much a two-way street.” He said Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the situation Monday.

“We expect those supplies to be delivered,” Mr. Trudeau said.

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In a summary of the call between Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Champagne, the U.S. state department indicated that the U.S. wants to keep the border open to medical supplies but made no firm commitments on allowing Canada to continue importing all the masks, gowns and gloves it needs.

“Secretary Pompeo reiterated the United States’ desire to work with Canada to ensure the viability of international supply chains for crucial medical supplies and personnel, while also meeting the needs of regions with the most severe outbreaks,” the summary said.

The State Department said the pair also discussed the repatriation of Canadian and U.S. citizens from cruise ships and other countries.

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