Canada to press U.S. further on medical supplies, Trudeau says

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada will keep up efforts to persuade the United States not to block the export of medical supplies to fight the coronavirus, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday, while the energy-producing province of Alberta warned of an economic disaster.

FILE PHOTO: Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks to news media outside his home in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada March 25, 2020. REUTERS/Patrick Doyle

Trudeau told a briefing that 500,000 N95 surgical masks from Saint Paul, Minnesota-based 3M Co - part of a batch of 4 million ordered by the province of Ontario - should arrive on Wednesday.

Canadian officials pressed their U.S. counterparts after Ontario complained the shipment had been blocked. U.S. President Donald Trump signed an order last week to stop personal protective equipment from being exported.

“We have had constructive and productive conversations that have assured that this particular shipment comes through but we recognize there is still more work to do,” Trudeau said.

“We are going to continue to highlight to the American administration the point to which healthcare supplies and services go back and forth across that border.”

The Canadian death toll rose to 345 from 293 on Monday, officials said. The total number of cases was 17,063, compared with 15,822 a day earlier.

The coronavirus outbreak looks set to cripple the economy, especially in Alberta, which was already suffering from low oil prices before authorities ordered a shutdown.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said that unemployment could increase to 25% from the current 7.2%.

“That’s before we even fully account for the impacts of the crash in energy prices,” he told reporters. “This will be the most challenging period in our economy, in relative terms, since the Great Depression.”

He added in an evening address that the province’s budget deficit may almost triple to C$20 billion ($14.27 billion) in this fiscal year.

The province’s energy patch needs up to C$30 billion in liquidity, he said. The federal government says it is working on an aid package for the sector.

Ottawa says more than 3.7 million people have filed unemployment claims since March 16, including for an emergency benefit that launched on Monday. Canada’s workforce is around 20 million people, according to Statistics Canada.

More than half the country’s coronavirus cases are in Quebec, the second-most populous province, which forecast on Tuesday between 1,263 and 8,860 deaths from the respiratory disease by the end of April.

Officials said the toll was likely to be closer to the more optimistic prediction.

Alberta forecast the coronavirus spread to peak in mid-May under its probable scenario and kill between 400 and 3,100 people by the end of summer. Once it passes the peak, Alberta will gradually reopen its economy with stepped-up testing, contact tracing and additional screening of international arrivals, Kenney said.

Ontario, the most-populous province, says it is running out of personal protection equipment.

Procurement Minister Anita Anand said Canada had commitments to companies around the world to buy more than 230 million face masks, of which more than 16 million had been delivered. It has also ordered 75 million N95 surgical masks and expects to have 2.3 million by end of the week.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Additional reporting by Jeff Lewis in Toronto and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall, Peter Cooney and Himani Sarkar