Coronavirus: Feds to offer update on scramble to procure protective equipment

The federal government will update Canadians today on the results of the mad scramble to procure personal protective equipment —  just as demand is poised to skyrocket with more people returning to work and public health officials preparing for a potential second wave of COVID-19 infections.

As of May 19, data posted by Public Services and Procurement Canada showed only a fraction of the millions of gloves, masks, face shields, ventilators and litres of hand sanitizer ordered by the federal government had so far been received.

For example, of 29,570 ventilators ordered, only 203 had been received.

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When it comes to the coveted N95 respirator mask that’s the standard-issue covering for the heath-care profession, upwards of 104 million have been ordered but just less than 12 million received and, of those, 9.8 million didn’t meet Canadian standards.

The equipment has been in high demand worldwide, with every country competing for scarce supplies from a limited number of suppliers, mostly in China. In what’s been described as a “wild west” battle, some confirmed orders have been snatched out from under Canada’s nose by other countries willing to pay more.

Even so, officials argue that the federal government has so far been able to deliver everything that the provinces and territories have requested.

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However, the demand is expected to go up now that provinces are easing up on the restrictions imposed in mid-March to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

As businesses open up and more people venture outside their homes, they’ll need masks and other protective gear to prevent spreading the virus.

Chief public health officer Dr Theresa Tam said Monday that the first wave of the pandemic never did exceed the capacity of Canada’s health system.

But she warned a second wave is potentially on the way and Canada must be prepared for that.

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Space in intensive care units needs to be guarded and infection control measures improved in high-risk settings like shelters, corrections facilities and long-term care homes.

“I think you can never be overly prepared and that we need to just keep going with some of these capacity developments,” she said.

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The government is purchasing supplies both from traditional manufacturers but also from Canadian companies which have pivoted away from their usual lines of business to assist in the production of COVID-19 related material.

Officials say thousands of domestic companies have stepped up.

Among them is General Motors, which is using its plants to help make masks.

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A company vice-president told a House of Commons committee that the non-traditional suppliers can only be part of the solution.

David Paterson said he’s seen estimates, for example, that some three billion face masks will be needed in Canada.

“We’re going to be making about 10 million of those, but we’re going to need a lot more from different sourcing areas.”

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In addition to the N95s, Public Services and Procurement Canada has ordered more than 333 million surgical masks and had received just over 79 million as of last week.

It has also ordered 55.6 million face shields, which skate-maker Bauer is now helping to produce in Canada, and had received 6.6 million.

© 2020 The Canadian Press

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