Canada likely did not stockpile enough masks, other protective equipment: health minister
OTTAWA -- Amid reports that some hospitals are rationing mask supplies amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Health Minister Patty Hajdu says Canada "likely did not have enough" personal protective equipment stockpiled ahead of this pandemic.
"I think federal governments for decades have been underfunding things like public health preparedness and I would say that obviously governments all across the world are in the same exact situation," Hajdu said, speaking at the daily cabinet ministers’ press conference on COVID-19 in Ottawa on Tuesday.
China produces a lion’s share of the world’s supply of personal protective equipment, or PPE. When the COVID-19 pandemic erupted and China closed many of its factories, the global supply chain was sent reeling.
"Suddenly, 80 per cent of the supply for the rest of the world just disappeared," Guillaume Laverdure, the North American president for Medicom Inc., a Montreal-based medical supplier, told CTV News on March 24.
As the supply dried up, hospitals including Toronto’s Mt. Sinai Hospital were forced to ration. Staff at the Toronto hospital were being told last week to limit their use to one mask per day, and were not changing their masks between seeing different patients.
"I have heard those stories myself from frontline workers; I know provinces and territories are developing different sets of rules for frontline workers around the dispersement and use of personal protective equipment," Hajdu said, adding that the government is pushing hard to build up its supply of PPE.
However, the international market for the hotly-demanded items is proving to be extremely competitive. As Hajdu noted, many other countries also did not have sufficient stockpiles, and are therefore looking to gobble up the available PPE on the global market.
"We are working I would say 24 hours, around the clock, trying to procure equipment in a global situation where equipment is extremely tight," Hajdu said.
"Our government has the money, we have the will, we have the workforce, and everybody's focus is firmly on getting PPE."
As a part of that push, Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said on Tuesday that the government has secured over 157,000,000 surgical masks and has ordered over 60,000,000 N95 masks. Even more masks were purchased Wednesday, according to Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.
The government has also shored up its domestic production. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Tuesday that the government has moved forward with contracts for three Canadian companies to make medical supplies such as ventilators, surgical masks and test kits. They've also signed letters of intent with five other companies.
Meanwhile, Hajdu said there’s a lesson to be learned from this scramble to stock up on PPE once this is all over.
"This is an opportunity for all governments to consider re-investing in public health and preparedness, and I look forward to those conversations on the other end of this," Hajdu said.
With files from CTV's Heather Wright and Graham Slaughter.