How the pandemic caught Canada with its PPE stockpiles down
This is an excerpt from the CBC's analysis on how when the pandemic hit, Canada found itself at the end of a long global queue for essential personal protective equipment.
CBC News, by Evan Dyer, July 11, 2020
To hear Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand describe it, Canada's effort to supply frontline workers during the pandemic has been a significant — if uneven — success.
"We did procurement like it has never been done before," said Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand. "We are in an urgent scramble to secure personal protective equipment and we will not let up until that task is accomplished."
The federal government, she said, has conducted just under a hundred flights to Canada carrying Chinese personal protective equipment (PPE) and bringing supplies from the U.S. and Europe.
It was a remarkable, last-ditch effort. But could it have been avoided?
Dr. Sandy Buchman, president of the Canadian Medical Association, gives Ottawa credit for pulling every lever it could when the need for PPE became critical. "But they wouldn't have had to scramble to do that if we had adequate stockpiles, and the same goes for medication," he told CBC News. "We should have maintained and had them available.
"We had a pandemic plan in place but we didn't actually have things ready. We didn't have adequate personal protective equipment for frontline health care workers."
In fact, Canada still doesn't have the PPE it needs to keep those essential workers safe.
Just take a look at the nation's capital. Thirty out of some 600 Ottawa paramedics are currently reassigned from front-line duties because of a lack of N95 masks, according to their union.
CUPE ambulance rep Jason Fraser told CBC News that when he began as a paramedic during the SARS epidemic in 2003, he and his co-workers were fitted out with state-of-the-art respirators.
"For 17 years, the gold standard of mask has been the N95 masks," he said. "And due to a global shortage or difficulty obtaining proper PPE, all of a sudden surgical masks are OK protection."
Fraser said his members don't want to work with anything less than N95s and don't believe they'd be asked to do so were it not for preventable shortages.
He points the finger of blame mainly at the Ontario government. But a shortage of N95s has been an issue in many places across the country.