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US blocks millions of masks for Canada, but some allowed

The premier of Canada’s most populous province said Monday U.S. officials have stopped 3 million masks from getting to Ontario from manufacturing giant 3M, though he said 500,000 of them were being released Monday despite a Trump administration call to prevent the export of N95 protective masks needed amid the new coronavirus pandemic.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he’s hopeful Canada will get an exemption and said he feels better about that after speaking with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

“It is absolutely critical that they except Canada from this presidential order,” Ford said.

A paramedic cleans ambulance equipment after transporting a patient to the Verdun Hospital in Montreal, on Monday, April 6, 2020. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s confident Canada will still be able to import N95 protective masks form the U.S. despite an export ban and says he will talk to U.S. President Donald Trump in the coming days. (Paul ChiassonThe Canadian Press via AP)

The move to block such masks, which are crucial in protecting healthcare workers on both sides of the border from the virus that causes COVID-19, outraged many officials in Canada. Ford said delays in global shipments and recent restrictions at the U.S. border have left Ontario with about a one-week supply of critical protective equipment.

The premier said he had been told Ontario will get 500,000 masks on Monday.

Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the flow of medical equipment benefits both countries and needs to continue.

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had spoken to Canada’s foreign minister about it and “reiterated the United States’ desire to work with Canada to ensure the viability of international supply chains for crucial medical supplies and personnel, while also meeting the needs of regions with the most severe outbreaks.”

Trump used his authority under the 1950 Defense Production Act to direct the government to acquire the “appropriate” number of N95 respirators from Minnesota-based 3M and its subsidiaries. He also asked it to stop exporting such masks, also known as respirators, though 3M issued a statement saying that could have “significant humanitarian implications” for healthcare workers in Canada and Latin America. The company said possible retaliation by other nations could actually lead to fewer of the masks being available in the U.S.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has noted Canada supplies the U.S. with many supplies, including pulp for surgical-grade N95 masks, test kits and gloves. Canadian nurses also work in the U.S.