Winnipeg Free Press

Delivering Crucial Information.
Right Here.

Support this work for just $3.92/week

OTTAWA — The Trudeau government says it will pay for and provide Manitoba with rapid COVID-19 tests, but is insisting on final say over the allocation of supplies to the provinces.

"The premier can rest assured that those tests will be available to Manitobans in accordance with the agreement that we negotiate." – Health Minister Patty Hajdu

The federal Liberals are also pushing back on the Manitoba government’s accusations that Ottawa seized a shipment of N-95 masks in the spring and blocked a recent order of rapid tests.

"We have not, and will not, block any provincial orders on (personal protective equipment) or any other items, including tests," federal Procurement Minister Anita Anand told the Free Press Tuesday. "On the contrary, our objective is to work with the provinces."

Last week, Health Canada approved the use of a rapid saliva test, and Manitoba Central Services Minister Reg Helwer said the province immediately placed an order. He said the supplier, Abbott, replied that Ottawa "had blocked direct sale of rapid tests to provinces."

Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Tuesday that her department intentionally bought tests in bulk for Canada to get a cheaper, faster shipment while avoiding duplication by provinces.

"The premier can rest assured that those tests will be available to Manitobans in accordance with the agreement that we negotiate," she said, adding that most COVID-19 equipment is allotted to provinces on a per capita basis, with some left over for surge capacity.

"Those devices will be provided to the province free of charge," Hajdu told the Free Press.

Helwer also claimed last Friday that a spring order two million N-95 respirators was blocked by American customs at the request of the federal government and diverted to Ottawa.

The Manitoba government said Tuesday that the US$12 million order was for masks made by 3M and handled by a third-party vendor. The government said it could not immediately provide the date of the seizure, but said it occurred early in the pandemic.

Federal bureaucrats said Tuesday they haven't been able to find any record of the shipment since Helwer raised the allegation last Friday. Anand said she was "somewhat surprised" by it.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca