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People make their way through Chinatown, Feb. 10, 2021, in Montreal.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Canada’s most influential business lobby group is calling for a national “all-hands-on-deck” mobilization to vaccinate and rapidly test Canadians for COVID-19 as the way to revive the struggling economy.

The Business Council of Canada, which represents the country’s biggest companies, sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the provincial and territorial leaders on Wednesday urging them to mobilize the country to eliminate the threat from the global pandemic.

Canada has been gripped by delays in the rollout of vaccines, with no expectation of large shipments of Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech doses arriving until the beginning of April. The majority of Canadians are not expected to be vaccinated until September.

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Goldy Hyder, president of the Business Council, and its chairman, Teck Resources Ltd. president and chief executive officer Don Lindsay, are offering to do whatever it takes to get Canadians inoculated and ensure rapid testing and tracking.

“As vaccine shipments accelerate through the spring and summer, there will need to be an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ push to inoculate as many people as possible, as quickly as possible,” the two business leaders said in the letter, which was obtained by The Globe and Mail.

“Companies and employers across the country are ready and eager to offer their expertise and resources at every stage of the rollout. This includes transportation and storage, establishing and scaling up vaccination clinics, training staff, tracking inventory and managing immunization records.”

The business leaders said a single large-scale vaccination campaign as planned by Ottawa will not be enough to overcome the pandemic, get the economy working at full steam and restore normalcy to life in Canada.

Since the pandemic virtually shut down much of the economy last March, the letter noted, millions of Canadians have lost jobs, 21,000 people have died from the disease and more than 800,000 have contracted the virus.

“The time has come for a sustained national commitment to widespread and frequent rapid testing and screening,” the letter said. “We, as employers are prepared to play a leadership role, building on the success of rapid-screening pilot projects that are currently underway at workplaces across the country.”

To make this happen, the authors said the federal government needs to “co-ordinate purchases on a massive scale” while working hand-in-hand with the provinces and health officials across the country.

So far, the federal government has shipped millions of rapid tests to provinces, but they have been slow to deploy them. For example, British Columbia received 1.8 million tests but only deployed 165,492, according to the federal government. Alberta has deployed just 62,578 out of 1.9 million tests.

The country, the letter argued, can no longer be left in a position where it has to rely on vaccines from the United States, Europe or India.

The authors applauded the Prime Minister for an agreement reached last week to outfit the National Research Council facility in Montreal to mass produce COVID-19 vaccines from Novavax, based in Maryland, and Precision NanoSystems, based in Vancouver.

“The past few weeks have shown Canadians what can happen when our country relies exclusively on vaccines manufactured elsewhere,” they wrote. “For that reason, we encourage the federal government to take further steps to expand Canada’s vaccine manufacturing capacity.”

The Prime Minister sounded an upbeat note on Wednesday, saying large deliveries of vaccines are coming and this will help prevent spreads of COVID-19, including new variants.

“Once people start getting vaccinated, they’re going to want to be getting back to normal more and more quickly, but the only way that we can ensure that we’re preventing spreads amongst the population, including of new variants, is to really double down on things like contact tracing and rapid testing,” Mr. Trudeau said.

Stephen Hunter, chief executive officer of Sunwing Travel Group, a Toronto-based leisure airline and resort operator, said the contracts Canada signed with vaccine makers likely did not include sufficient penalties for failing to fulfill the terms, “which is why Pfizer and Moderna decided to cut Canada off and fulfill their other obligations.”

“Relative to other places, particularly the U.K., Germany and the U.S., I think something obviously went wrong with the way that Canada procured it, the way that the contracts were written. We as a private business … would have heavy, heavy penalties for suppliers not meeting their obligations,” Mr. Hunter said.

With reports from Eric Atkins and Marieke Walsh

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