Canada ready to answer UN's pandemic emergency funding request, says Trudeau

Canada will answer the United Nations' urgent appeal for a $2 billion global humanitarian response plan to fund the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in the world's poorest countries, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday.

'The world is only as strong as our weakest health system' - UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres

A child walks next to tents in a migrant camp set up near the Turkish-Greek border in Pazarkule in the Edirne region of Turkey March 10, 2020. The United Nations is appealing to wealthy countries for aid to fight the COVID-19 pandemic in parts of the world with weak or non-existent public health systems. (Ismail Coskun/The Associated Press)

Canada will answer the United Nations' urgent appeal for a $2 billion global humanitarian response plan to fund the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic in the world's poorest countries, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres launched the appeal on Wednesday, saying the virus "is arriving in countries already in the midst of humanitarian crises caused by conflicts, natural disasters and climate change."

People in those countries often live in cramped refugee camps where they lack the means to self-isolate, clean water and soap to wash their hands, and access to hospital beds and ventilators in the event they become seriously ill, the UN chief added.

"The world is only as strong as our weakest health system," Guterres said. "If we do not act decisively now, I fear the virus will establish a foothold in the most fragile countries, leaving the whole world vulnerable as it continues to circle the planet, paying no mind to borders."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses Canadians on the COVID-19 situation from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Speaking at his daily briefing from the porch of his home at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Trudeau said Canada already has set aside money for international assistance as part of its $1 billion COVID-19 response fund.

"We, of course, will work with the UN, continue to work with international partners on financial support to ensure that we can respond to this global pandemic with global resources," Trudeau said.

"Canada will be there to participate."

The federal government already has earmarked $8 million of the $50 million spending package announced as part of its COVID-19 Response Fund on March 11 for groups such as the World Health Organization, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Committee of the Red Cross to help them fight the pandemic.

Trudeau said he also has been in contact in recent days with several world leaders to discuss pandemic response, including Rwandan President Paul Kagame, President of Senegal Macky Sall and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Trudeau offered Canada's support "through advice and international assistance to help vulnerable countries respond to COVID-19's devastating impacts," according to readouts of his conversations with African leaders released by the Prime Minister's Office.

A global scramble for supplies

Health experts warn, however, that as wealthy countries scramble to buy medical and protective equipment for their own needs, poorer countries face not only financial obstacles in procuring these supplies but also a worldwide shortage of basic emergency medical and protective equipment — such as ventilators, masks, overalls and testing kits.

As Canada ramps up production of emergency medical and protective equipment to meet the growing need for it here, the federal government also recognizes that there is a big demand for such equipment around the world, Trudeau said.

"Canada will be part of the solution, not just to make sure that Canada has all the equipment and supplies needed for our citizens should the situation get worse, but we will have, hopefully, equipment and supplies to share with the vulnerable parts of the world that will desperately need help," Trudeau said.

According to statistics compiled by Johns Hopkins University, there were over 440,000 cases of COVID-19 in 172 countries around the world on Wednesday. The virus has killed over 19,700 people worldwide, with the majority of cases concentrated in Italy, Spain, China and Iran.

Canada was reporting roughly 3,290 cases and 30 deaths as of Wednesday morning.

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