New Brunswick

295,000 surgical masks from U.S. 'on hold' because of Trump order

A shipment of 295,000 surgical masks New Brunswick was expecting from the United States is now "on hold" after President Donald Trump ordered manufacturer 3M to prioritize orders of N95 respirators for American use, says Premier Blaine Higgs.

Premier Blaine Higgs remains optimistic order will be delivered

Premier Blaine Higgs said he remains optimistic a deal can be negotiated and the mask shipment will make its way to New Brunswick. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

A shipment of 295,000 surgical masks New Brunswick was expecting from the United States is now "on hold" after President Donald Trump ordered manufacturer 3M to prioritize orders of N95 respirators for American use, says Premier Blaine Higgs.

But it hasn't been cancelled, he told CBC News on Monday night.

"We have not been given any firm delivery date or time, but it has not been cancelled so we're still optimistic it will get delivered."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other officials are working to reverse the United States' decision to invoke the Defense Production Act to force Minnesota-based 3M to prioritize orders from the U.S. government for N95 respirators at the expense of foreign orders, including those from Canada, he said.

Later Monday, 3M announced it has struck a deal with the U.S. government to allow the export of N95 respirator masks to Canada.

It's not immediately clear how this will affect New Brunswick's shipment.

The masks, which are in short supply around the world, filter out 95 per cent of airborne particles and are considered critical personal protective equipment for front-line health-care workers as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on.

A statement from the company said it will import 166.5 million respirators into the U.S. over the next three months, primarily from its manufacturing facility in China.

"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 statement said.

The company said it is ramping up production and within about a year will be able to start producing two billion respirator masks a year. The first wave of that production is expected to come online in the next three months.

Enough to last 4 or 5 weeks

New Brunswick has 103 cases of COVID-19, with two new confirmed cases announced on Monday.

Seven patients are in hospital, including three in intensive care.

The shipment of masks was due to be delivered within the next two weeks, Higgs said.

"We have supplies right now to manage the needs we have," he said.

Asked how long the current supply will last, the premier estimated four or five weeks.

A 3M mask, one of the items of protective equipment health-care workers around the world badly need to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

If the shipment does come through, it may not necessarily make it to New Brunswick because there's "kind of a pact" between the federal government and all the premiers, said Higgs.

"We want supplies to go where they're most needed," he said. "We'll do an inventory check as supplies come into our country because it's important that we address the critical nature in different provinces when in fact a supply is at a critical point."

Looking into reusing masks

Still, Higgs pledged to ensure New Brunswick will have "adequate supplies."

The province is seeking out other sources, he said, citing China and Ontario as possibilities.

It's also looking into the possibility of sterilizing and reusing the masks, normally thrown away after one use, said Higgs.

Last week, a group of Manitoba researchers released a study on the decontamination of four types of masks. It said preliminary results suggest some masks could be successfully decontaminated and reused up to 10 times using common sterilization techniques.

The Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton is "looking at whether they can actually do this," Higgs said.

Some sites are storing the used masks rather than throwing them away, in case they can be reused, he said.

"So we're looking at all aspects and ensuring that our use is what we can maintain for supply and that it provides … the protection that's needed for individuals."

'Judicious use'

Last week, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell said she had been in contact with the Horizon and Vitalité health authorities, Ambulance New Brunswick and other health agencies about advising health-sector employees on the "judicious use" of personal protective equipment, such as masks.

Public Health officials had also informed WorkSafeNB and the various unions that represent the workers, she had said.

With files from Catharine Tunney and David Cochrane

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