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The federal government put out a call to action Friday to mobilize Canadian manufacturers and health technology companies in an unprecedented push to produce ventilators, surgical masks, disinfectants and other critical supplies needed to fight the spread of the new coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a news conference that Ottawa will provide money to rapidly increase the production of essential medical supplies for the health-care system, which is struggling to contain COVID-19.

“We are launching Canada’s plan to mobilize industry to fight COVID-19 to ensure that we can quickly produce here in Canada the things we need,” Mr. Trudeau said. “This initiative will help companies that are already making things like masks, ventilators and hand sanitizers to massively scale up production."

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The Prime Minister said Ottawa will provide support for “those who want to retool their manufacturing facilities to contribute to this fight."

At the same time, the government has managed to buy a wide range of protection gear including lab coats, hand sanitizers, ventilators, thermometers and 11.3 million N95 masks that are essential for doctors and nurses treating COVID-19 patients, Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said.

“We have had over 5,800 submissions from companies offering goods or services to combat COVID-19. We are planning for the future by considering both current and anticipated needs,“ she said

Ottawa’s decision to enlist manufacturers in the fight against COVID-19 follows similar moves elsewhere, including in France, where conglomerate LVMH is producing hand sanitizer for hospitals on production lines that previously made Dior and Givenchy luxury perfumes. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has asked Ford, Honda, Rolls-Royce and other manufacturers to meet the soaring demand for ventilators and other health-care equipment.

A key part of the fight against the coronavirus is to slow the rate of infections so that seriously ill patients do not overwhelm the capacity of the health-care system, including the number of available ventilators.

HOW A VENTILATOR WORKS

COVID-19 can cause severe respiratory problems, where the oxygen levels in the blood may drop too low or the carbon dioxide levels may rise too high. Either of these conditions can result in damage to vital organs, including the heart and brain. Under these circumstances, the patient may need additional breathing support through mechanical ventilation. First step in mechanical ventilation is endotracheal intubation

The patient’s head is tilted back slightly and a laryngoscope is inserted through the mouth and down into the throat

With the laryngoscope as a guide, the endotracheal tube is then inserted into the trachea

When the tube is in proper position, a small balloon surrounding the tube is inflated to make sure it remains in place

LUNGS

TRACHEA

LARYNGOSCOPE

The laryngoscope is removed and the tube is taped to the corner of the patient’s mouth. The doctor uses a special bag to inflate the lungs to confirm the tube is in proper position

When it’s determined that the tube is in proper position, it is attached to the mechanical ventilator where oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood are closely monitored

The ventilator delivers well oxygenated air and allows carbon dioxide to escape from the lungs

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: NUCLEUS MEDICAL MEDIA

HOW A VENTILATOR WORKS

COVID-19 can cause severe respiratory problems, where the oxygen levels in the blood may drop too low or the carbon dioxide levels may rise too high. Either of these conditions can result in damage to vital organs, including the heart and brain. Under these circumstances, the patient may need additional breathing support through mechanical ventilation. First step in mechanical ventilation is endotracheal intubation

The patient’s head is tilted back slightly and a laryngoscope is inserted through the mouth and down into the throat

With the laryngoscope as a guide, the endotracheal tube is then inserted into the trachea

When the tube is in proper position, a small balloon surrounding the tube is inflated to make sure it remains in place

LUNGS

TRACHEA

LARYNGOSCOPE

The laryngoscope is removed and the tube is taped to the corner of the patient’s mouth. The doctor uses a special bag to inflate the lungs to confirm the tube is in proper position

When it’s determined that the tube is in proper position, it is attached to the mechanical ventilator where oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood are closely monitored

The ventilator delivers well oxygenated air and allows carbon dioxide to escape from the lungs

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: NUCLEUS MEDICAL MEDIA

HOW A VENTILATOR WORKS

COVID-19 can cause severe respiratory problems, where the oxygen levels in the blood may drop too low or the carbon dioxide levels may rise too high. Either of these conditions can result in damage to vital organs, including the heart and brain. Under these circumstances, the patient may need additional breathing support through mechanical ventilation. First step in mechanical ventilation is endotracheal intubation

The patient’s head is tilted back slightly and a laryngoscope is inserted through the mouth and down into the throat

With the laryngoscope as a guide, the endotracheal tube is then inserted into the trachea

When the tube is in proper position, a small balloon surrounding the tube is inflated to make sure it remains in place

LUNGS

TRACHEA

LARYNGOSCOPE

The laryngoscope is removed and the tube is taped to the corner of the patient’s mouth. The doctor uses a special bag to inflate the lungs to confirm the tube is in proper position

When it’s determined that the tube is in proper position, it is attached to the mechanical ventilator where oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood are closely monitored

The ventilator delivers well oxygenated air and allows carbon dioxide to escape from the lungs

MURAT YÜKSELIR / THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: NUCLEUS MEDICAL MEDIA

Under the new initiative, companies will be able to access funds through the Strategic Innovation Fund to retool to produce medical equipment and supplies. The National Research Council will also work with companies on health research to find a vaccine to fight the virus.

“Our health-care professionals really need support, so our government will help these companies shift production from auto parts to medical supplies,” Mr. Trudeau said.

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Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains said companies that want to help will easily be able to tap into federal money.

“Funds will be deployed on an accelerated basis with wider flexibility to be able to tackle COVID-19-related problems, to shorten applications and faster approvals,” Mr. Bains said. “We want our health-care professionals to be able to focus on doing their life-saving work without worrying about the supply of medical equipment.”

Already companies have stepped forward to produce protection gear, medical equipment, portable testing kits for COVID-19 that can be used at airports and to scale up production of ventilators.

“We want researchers, industries and business people to get down to work right away," Mr. Bains said.

Dennis Darby, President of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, said Canada Goose has said it will switch to producing surgical gowns, which will be a lot easier than the transition facing General Electric as it tries to ramp up production of ventilators – complex machines that help patients breath.

“Can we pivot manufacturing, it really depends on the complexity,” he said. “If you are a company that already makes cleaning products, you can pivot to making hand sanitizers … but things like ventilators are not as easy because they are heavily regulated in terms of the facility and quality control.”

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Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, said his members can produce almost any product, including ventilators, but it needs ventilator manufacturers such as Medtronic, Philips and GE to give them interim licensing approvals.

“We can spit out scales of volume that medical-device companies have never been set up to do,” he said. 'Ventilators are analogous to some of the complex propulsion systems in cars today,“ Mr. Volpe said. “The same number of parts, the same number of materials … so we think that under licensed contract, we could make the volumes of everything the health sector needs to fight off the [COVID-19] wave when it gets here.”

Linamar, one of the country’s largest auto-parts manufacturers, indicated on Friday that it is aiming to make ventilators.

“Linamar is working closely with government, industry experts and other manufacturing companies to find a way to expedite expanding capacity for ventilators,” Linda Hasenfratz, the Guelph-based company’s CEO, said in a statement. “It is a top priority project for us at the moment and one we are highly focused on.

Global auto companies with manufacturing facilities in Ontario, which are currently shutting down their normal operations, also expressed willingness to direct resources toward medical-supplies manufacturing.

Honda Canada’s President and CEO Dave Gardner said the company is currently focused on managing suspension of production and has no no plans to retool, but “we would certainly consider any request if are approached” by Ottawa to make medical supplies.

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David Paterson, GM Canada’s vice-president for corporate and environmental affairs, said: “We’re currently studying how we can help specialized original-equipment managers to scale their operation and we will help them any way we can.”

Fear of the novel coronavirus, which took hold in January and has now spread to more than 175 countries, has led people to snap up hand sanitizer. Most retail outlets across Canada have been out of stock for weeks. While producers say more is on the way, it’s not clear how long it will take to reach retailers.

The leading maker of hand sanitizer is operating its plants around the clock and a major Canadian distiller – Corby Spirit and Wine Ltd. – said it is adding hand sanitizer to the production line at its distillery in Windsor, Ont.

Health Canada announced on Thursday that is responding to the urgent need for products that can help limit the spread of the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, by allowing hand sanitizers, face masks and disinfectants to be sold in Canada that may not “fully meet” regulatory requirements. These include products with different packaging from what was authorized, such as English-only labels, and those approved for sale in other jurisdictions, but not Canada.

With reports from Adam Radwanski, Partrick Brethour and Karen Howlett

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