Manitoba

Ottawa, Manitoba announce $400K for Western Canada's first PPE testing facility

Winnipeg will be home to Western Canada's first testing facility for personal protective equipment, the federal government announced Thursday.

Orthopaedic Innovation Centre in Winnipeg will set up testing services to help secure domestic supply

The federal government says the investment, half of which will be provided by the province, will help speed up standard-testing of PPE made in Canada, allowing it to get to health-care workers more quickly. (Nicholas Pfosi/Reuters)

Winnipeg will be home to Western Canada's first testing facility for personal protective equipment, the federal government announced Thursday.

The Manitoba and federal governments are investing a combined total of $399,647 toward the Orthopeadic Innovation Centre, which will use the money to set up testing services for PPE that will ensure respiratory products being made in Canada are up to code.

"The problem that we face is [PPE] cannot be tested in Canada because there was no testing facility. It was sent to the U.S.," federal Minister of Economic Development Mélanie Joly told CBC News.

"By having this first Western Canada testing facility, we're changing that and we're making sure that Canadians can have access to it quicker."

When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, the entire world rushed to order the PPE health-care workers needed to battle the virus. But the global demand, limited supply and international supply chains made it difficult to get the products on Canadian soil from overseas.

As a result, many provinces, including Manitoba, sought the services of local companies to repurpose their facilities and manufacture the needed products.

But the locally made PPE still needs to be tested to ensure it meets the proper standards. Right now, the wait time before respiratory products are tested is 12 weeks, the release said.

With the help of the new testing services coming to Winnipeg, though, that wait time is expected to drop to less than two weeks.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that we need local, secure supply chains for critical medical products, including personal protective equipment," Reg Helwer, Manitoba's minister of central services, said in a news release about the announcement.

"This initiative will help these local companies access rapid testing of these products, ensuring our front-line health providers have the products they need to ensure safe, quality care for patients across the province."

Helwer said the province's share of the investment is $200,000. The rest is coming from Western Economic Diversification Canada, a federal agency focused on economic development in Western Canada, said Joly.

The Orthopaedic Innovation Centre, located near Concordia Hospital, will provide testing, measurement, consulting, product development and digital manufacturing services on a cost-recovery basis for various industrie.

The centre will also assess and develop new technologies for those industries.

"We wanted this lab to have a lot of robust capability," Martin Petrak, president and CEO of the Orthopaedic Innovation Centre, said during a news conference about the investment on Thursday.

That includes testing the material that will be used to make PPE, "prior to when it's even cut up and put into the shape of a mask, right through to testing an end product," he said.

"We have to be able to help innovators, develop new designs, get through testing of final designs, prior to going into full production, as well as taking existing designs that are on the market and verifying that they meet the standards required by Health Canada."

The facility is mainly going to focus on testing medical-grade N95 respirators, Joly told CBC News, but that could change depending on what equipment local businesses are making.

The equipment needed for testing has been ordered and should arrive within two weeks, said Petrak, and testing services should start in about three to four weeks from now.

About the Author

Nicholas Frew is an online reporter based in Winnipeg. Hailing from Newfoundland, Frew moved to Halifax to attend journalism school before moving to Winnipeg. Prior to joining CBC Manitoba, Frew interned at the Winnipeg Free Press. Story idea? Email at nick.frew@cbc.ca

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