The quest for medical supplies to combat COVID-19 sure isn’t pretty, eh?
“It is really a Wild West when it comes to buying medical supplies right now,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters on April 6.
And how is Canada doing?
That’s what MPs were asking one of the officials responsible for bulk purchases of personal protection equipment, such as masks and gloves, on Wednesday, two days after CBC News reported that the federal government has set up a made-for-Canada plan aimed at ensuring that more PPE actually makes it from China to Canada.
“It is no secret that we are operating in a highly competitive global environment, and this comes with challenges,” said Bill Matthews, deputy minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada, understating the task at hand.
“The entire world is scrambling to get the same materials from a finite number of suppliers, most of whom are located in China.”
As of Monday, Matthews said, millions of items had arrived from domestic and international suppliers, including:
- 17 million surgical masks, from orders for 293 million.
- 609,000 N95 masks, from orders for 130 million.
- Five million pairs of gloves, from orders for 900 million.
Delivery, Matthews said, has started on other items, including about 20 million litres of hand sanitizer.
Matthews added that 17 million face shields are on order, with Canadian hockey equipment manufacturer Bauer filling part of that order.
“Limited availability of many of these products is resulting in buyers overbidding,” Matthews said. “Established orders are often redirected to those willing to pay the most.”
Canada, he said, is employing a three-pronged strategy to compete.
- Seeking out and buying all of the PPE supplies it can find to meet the short-term needs.
- Placing massive orders of supplies, much more than Canada needs in the short term, to ensure that the orders were big enough to keep the attention of international suppliers.
- Signing supply agreements with Canadian companies that are retooling to make N95 masks, face shields and gowns.
Matthews said Canadian officials are working day and night to make the plan work, with planes carrying supplies arriving from China “every couple of days.”
With files from Peter Zimonjic of CBC News