TORONTO — Ten days ago, Irwin Toy made a dramatic and urgent shift. Instead of just selling dolls and trucks, the Canadian company now sells medical-grade masks and makes between 250,000 and 500,000 a day.
“We have sold masks to … hospitals in the U.S.A. and Caribbean — over 400,000 masks in Ontario and a total of 1.5 million to date,” said George Irwin, president of the company, in an interview from his home in Collingwood, Ont.
His company was one of more than half a dozen that contacted CTV News, after our story Sunday night about long-term care homes in need of masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) getting pitches from new suppliers with staggeringly high prices –some products priced between 700 per cent and 5,000 per cent above normal costs. Surgical masks normally 58 cents were being sold for $6, and N95 masks priced as high as $17.52.
Irwin says his company offers surgical masks for 58 cents and N95 masks at US$2.90, but adds that prices change quickly.
“We are working 24/7 to keep prices in line,” said Irwin.
Across Canada, hospitals, medical clinics other health services are clamouring for the tools that will protect health-care workers and save lives. But everything is in short supply, and hospital and nursing home stocks are dwindling.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford has warned that his province is running low on PPE, and other provinces like Newfoundland and Labrador are asking for help with their dwindling supplies. One shipment of 500,000 masks is making its way from the U.S and “will help for another week,” he said.
However, Irwin says he made calls to the Ontario government offering to supply more hospitals — but says never heard back.
Another Burlington, Ont.-based mask supplier, eSafetyProducts.com, responded to our story on excessive pricing and said costs are going up for a variety of reasons. Among them, it listed high demand and low supply, higher raw material costs, and shipping by air to save time at a higher cost. What’s more, the company’s inventory was drained early January by a rush of purchases.
“Chinese individuals and companies in Canada were frantically buying up all the N95 masks they could get their hands on,” said owner Robert Bortoluzzi. “They were running around like worker bees buying and shipping back to China, ironically where the masks are made. They basically obliterated the supply, this along with regular supply chain purchasing has left most large suppliers with no stock and no answer as to when more are coming.”
Bortoluzzi says he has secured has supplies of N95 and KN95 masks, as well as gowns and gloves, but says despite market upheaval he plans to keep prices reasonable.
“We are selling at a fair price in order to help as many people as we can,” said Bortoluzzi. His company reached out to his local MP and applied to Health Canada, one of many hundreds of medical supply vendors.
Another Canadian firm, Momentum Solutions, emailed CTV News after the long-term care story, offering personal protective equipment at a reasonable cost.
CEO Stephen Arbib says his firm is supplying only large orders for between 20,000 and 20 million masks — sourcing some from China and others from 3M plants in Hungary, Turkey and Mexico.
Governments usually have lists of pre-approved companies that have applied for and passed contract conditions and safety regulations. Many mask makers not on the list have applied to become suppliers during the pandemic, with indications the federal government is willing to fast-track approvals. But some report it’s taking weeks to hear back from officials.
As for Irwin, hospitals are now contacting him directly for mask supplies, which his son in China oversees for safety and quality.
“We’ve been delivering toys to kids for 90-some-odd years and one thing we know is you want to sell and make sure that you deliver a toy that doesn’t hurt anybody, and we’ve taken that same approach with masks,” he said.