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Trudeau to discuss need for COVID-19 data with premiers as worries mount over shortage of medical supplies

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will speak with premiers today about the need for COVID-19 data and a co-ordinated strategy to get critical medical supplies to communities in need.

In the face of an expected surge in COVID-19 cases, Trudeau said he understands Canadians crave information about the anticipated rate of infection and number of deaths, and how long it will be before their lives return to normal.

Data, modelling and analysis will be on the agenda for today’s teleconference with premiers. Trudeau said he looks forward to “being able to share more information soon.”

The PM said people can imagine a range of scenarios, from one where everyone gets “suddenly better” within the next few weeks to a situation that becomes as dire as those seen in some other countries. Coming up with that range is not as useful or important as getting clear numbers on what Canada is likely to face, he said.

“We’ve been working with the provinces on ensuring that we have the best possible data,” he said.

“We’ve seen over the past days there’s been a lot of clearing of the backlog in testing in a number of different places. That is giving us more accurate images on how COVID-19 is spreading, on where it’s spreading, on how it’s being transmitted and how the measures that we’re bringing into place are working.

The call with provincial and territorial leaders, set for 5:30 p.m. ET, comes as public health agencies across Canada scramble to prepare for a sharp rise in infected patients as they face shortages of ventilators, masks and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Trudeau said this morning that all levels of government have co-operated on a response to the “unprecedented challenge.”

“Going forward, that collaboration will become even more important,” he said during the daily news conference outside his residence at Rideau Cottage.

“We will be there to support the provinces and territories with whatever they need. That includes sending personal protective equipment and other supports for the health care system.”

Trudeau said about 10 million masks have arrived in the last few days and are being inspected and validated before distribution. He applauded the Canadian companies that are stepping up to refocus production on critical supplies, pointing to sports equipment manufacturer Bauer, which is turning its operation over to making face shields for health workers.

Trudeau also responded to growing demands for more information about public health officials’ projection of the pandemic’s toll in terms of total infections and deaths.

He said he understands that Canadians want more analysis or modelling on how the pandemic might unfold in Canada so they can plan and prepare. He said more information on that will be coming “soon” but added that governments have been transparent in providing raw data.

Trudeau said much of the modelling will depend on how well Canadians follow public health officials’ advice on staying home, self-isolating and maintaining physical distancing.

“Those analyses depend directly on Canadians’ behaviours,” he said.

“What the experts are telling us is that we must do everything we can today and tomorrow to set us on the right path for next week and next month.”

Trudeau said following those guidelines will save lives, protect front-line health workers and limit the burden on hospitals, and said too many people are still not following the advice.

CBC News has special coverage of Trudeau’s daily briefing. Watch it here.

In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford announced a $50-million fund Wednesday to help businesses retool their operations to produce medical equipment and personal protective gear for front-line workers. He described the process as “a race against time.”

Political leaders and public health officials have been ramping up their messaging to convince Canadians to stay home, self-isolate if they’ve been at risk of exposure, and practise physical distancing when out in public for essential purposes.

The goal is to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in order to ease the burden on health care systems and equipment.

On Wednesday, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said scenario planning is being done, but the immediate focus of attention is on “getting this first wave under control.”

Health care systems potentially ‘overwhelmed’

“Let’s just say, just to add, that any planning scenario has us potentially overwhelming our health care system,” she said.

“As I’ve said, part of the exercise is so that we free up some of the hospital resources and ICUs, purchasing extra ventilators. But the really difficult message to Canadians is that on a whole range of scenarios, this health system isn’t well designed to cope with it if we don’t do something about it now.”

As the government works with the provinces and territories on the health services front, it is also pushing out a massive emergency aid package to cope with the financial fallout of COVID-19.

On Thursday, Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced details of a $71 billion wage subsidy program, which will cover 75 per cent of wages for all non-publicly funded businesses, charities and non-profits to keep people on the payroll.

The opposition Conservatives and business groups have said the anticipated delivery time frame of up to six weeks is too long and could mean more layoffs and business closures.

Morneau will be taking questions on that program from MPs on the finance committee at 2 p.m. ET. The committee will be meeting via teleconference.

The government has also announced a $24 billion income support program, which will give Canadians who are out of work due to the pandemic about $2,000 a month. That program is set to open for applications on April 6, and will be managed by the Canada Revenue Agency.

Trudeau said Thursday he will recall Parliament to pass new legislation for the expanded benefits.

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