OTTAWA — A senior official with Canadian Blood Services is warning that Canada is facing a critical shortage if it doesn't find a way to make up for a sharp drop in blood donations.
Dr. Isra Levy says donations dropped about 20 per cent late last week because of concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic and he's worried about making up the difference.
"We're right on the precipice. Because although the inventory is solid and we're seeing some hospitals cancelling elective procedures, we know that for some blood components that we produce the shelf life for our products is very short," Levy said Monday.
"At any time we're days away from having a shortage particularly of platelets and rare blood types."
Some hospitals have cancelled elective surgeries, but there is still a constant demand as a result of trauma from accidents and for cancer patients who need regular transfusions, Levy said. He points to blood shortages being reported in other countries affected by COVID-19.
Canadian Blood Services operates a national blood inventory that allows products to be regularly shifted around the country to meet hospital and patient needs. Inventory is strong, Levy said, but the increase in donor cancellations is troubling.
"We certainly are worried we're in that space right now. We could be days away from critical shortages."
Levy said about 400,000 of Canada's 37 million residents give blood on a regular basis and making up for donations from people choosing to stay home during the pandemic could prove difficult. A number of corporate blood drives have also been cancelled, which has resulted in a further strain on the supply, he said.
Levy said it is safe to visit clinics. All prospective donors are carefully screened for symptoms of illness, including mild ones. Those with any symptoms are not allowed to donate blood and are instructed not to visit.
"What we really want to encourage our donors to remember is that this is an essential service. We are places where well people congregate ... not ill people," he said.
"Our donor centres are islands of wellness within Canada's health system."
In addition to encouraging new donors to come forward, Canadian Blood Services is looking at extending hours at a number of clinics across the country.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2020
— By Bill Graveland in Calgary
Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter
The Canadian Press