Canada blasts U.S. blockage of 3M mask export as new coronavirus cases set to soar

OTTAWA/TORONTO (Reuters) – Canadian officials on Friday blasted a move by President Donald Trump to block 3M Co’s export of respirators as coronavirus cases were projected to soar in the country’s most populous region.

Ontario health officials projected 80,000 coronavirus cases and 1,600 deaths in the province by month end under current public health measures, and urged people to restrict their movements.

Ontario has reported 3,255 confirmed cases and 67 deaths.

Late Thursday, Trump slammed 3M in a tweet after earlier invoking the Defense Production Act to get the company to produce protective face masks.

Prime Justin Trudeau said it would be “a mistake” to create blockages that reduce the flow of essential goods, including medical supplies, across the border, noting that many Canadian healthcare professionals go to work in Detroit every day.

Asked whether Canada would retaliate if the U.S. blockade goes ahead, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Ottawa would “do whatever it takes to defend the national interest.”

3M said on Friday it would boost respirator production and import more masks into the United States, and it warned that blocking exports could result in retaliation by other countries that could ultimately reduce the amount of equipment available.

Canada and the United States closed their common border to all non-essential traffic earlier this month.

Canada has recorded almost 12,000 cases of the illness caused by the new coronavirus, and the death toll jumped by almost 20% from Thursday to 152, the public health agency said on Friday.

Doug Ford, the premier of Ontario, said on Friday he had spoken to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer about the Trump administration move to block 3M exports of masks.

“The health and well-being of our frontline workers depend on these essential medical items and now more than ever our countries need to work together to combat COVID-19,” Ford said on Twitter.

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Separately, Trudeau said Amazon Canada will manage the distribution of personal protection equipment to the provinces.

He said Quebec has requested that the Canadian Armed Forces be sent to northern communities to assist isolated and remote communities in managing the coronavirus outbreak.

($1 = 1.4127 Canadian dollars)

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