Ottawa poised to run PPE flight out of China every day
Government official says flying each plane to and from China can cost up to C$800,000.
OTTAWA — Ottawa is getting ready to run one flight of medical supplies out of China every day, a parliamentary committee on government operations was told on Friday.
In total, more than 10 flights have now arrived in Canada from China, and the medical supplies that failed to make it onto a plane returning from China earlier this week have now arrived in Canada, Procurement Minister Anita Anand said Friday.
“We still need to bring in internationally sourced materials, and much of it is coming from China,” Anand said. “While we have experienced challenges, we have some successes.”
Anand said Ottawa is working to ensure no more planes are forced to return to Canada without their cargo. In part, she said, Air Canada and Cargojet are now flying out of different terminals at the airport in Shanghai, to reduce the potential for logjams.
Bill Matthews, Anand’s deputy minister, told the committee that only one Government of Canada flight has returned without its cargo, but planes from other countries also had to leave empty on Sunday. POLITICO has confirmed that planes from six other countries had to leave China without their cargo, as did a plane chartered by the Manitoba government.
Matthews said the airport was very busy over the weekend, and heavy rain also impeded operations. “The goods were unable to get from the warehouse to be loaded on the plane in time for departure,” he said.
Each flight, including the empty flight, costs C$600,000 to C$800,000, Matthews said.
POLITICO reported earlier this week that China is currently supplying about 70 percent of Canada’s medical supply imports, with much of the rest coming from the U.S., the U.K. and Switzerland.
Asked which medical supplies are causing the biggest headache for procurement officials, Matthews said the government is still “actively managing” the supply of N95 respirators, but said the supplies of surgical masks and testing swabs are now under control.
Anand was also questioned about the fact that one million respirators imported from China have failed to meet federal standards for frontline workers. Reports about the substandard respirators this week came after news earlier this month that Ontario had received a federal shipment of 100,000 swabs contaminated with mold. “I will note that we have had some quality issues with supply,” Anand said. “Quality issues, while unwelcome, should not be unexpected given the surge in global demand for these goods.”
Government officials said they expect to get replacement masks and swabs at no additional cost.
On Friday, Ottawa launched a new webpage that shows medical supplies ordered and received to date. According to the webpage, the federal government has ordered 155 million N95 respirators and received 5.3 million, though many of those remain under testing and have not been distributed to provinces. Ottawa has also received 18 million surgical masks and 12 million pairs of nitrile gloves.
In all cases, the government has received only a small fraction of the number of items ordered, but Anand said part of Ottawa’s strategy is to over-order in anticipation of delays and incomplete deliveries.
The government is also expecting to begin receiving deliveries of ventilators, face shields and gowns next week, which are now being manufactured in Canada. Ottawa has ordered 30,000 ventilators from a group of Canadian companies.
The new webpage says the federal government began to make “bulk and proactive purchases” of medical supplies in January. But Matthews told the committee that there were only “some minor, small orders” made in late January and early February, and the first big, bulk order was made March 10 or 11, after several weeks of consultations with provinces.