N95 masks

Courtesy healthline.com

Two more examples have come to light on how unprepared the Department of Health was for the pandemic – the number of ventilators they had stored was only one per cent of what was needed and early safety testing of masks had to be done in Florida.

“We do not currently have a machine to test the specifications of our N95 masks so we are going to have to send samples to Florida to get them inspected and then have them sent back to Canada, which adds additional wait times before supplies can get to provinces,” read an April 5, 2020 memo from the Prime Minister’s Office obtained by Blacklock’s Reporter.

“Officials are trying to find a way around this. We cannot get our hands on machines that can test the specifications of N95s and make sure they check out. We will have to send samples to Florida.”

The department was supposed to have kept a four months’ supply of masks, gowns, ventilators and other pandemic goods.

But authorities have repeatedly refused to disclose actual supplies in a National Emergency Strategic Stockpile at the outbreak of the pandemic last March 11.

“Our understanding from the Public Health Agency is that for security reasons, the Agency does not disclose specifics,” said a March 19 staff email.

But records confirm the Agency had only 539 ventilators when the outbreak started. It subsequently ordered 40,547 from manufacturers to be delivered by March 2021.

The supplies of the high-grade N95 masks were also woefully small. When BC asked for 550,000 masks on March 24, staff found they only had 6,000 in warehouses.

Two million of the masks were thrown out months before when the Public Health Agency closed a depot in Regina.

Aides in the PMO said cabinet might have to order private manufacturers to retool their factories the shortages were so severe.

“We should get a list from Health of things we will have shortages on and look to mandate manufacturing be switched to what is needed like in war time when factories were retooled for needed equipment: masks, ventilators etcetera,” Brett Thalmann, an executive director to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, wrote March 15, 2020.

“Regular procurement and bulk buying may not be enough.”

At parliamentary hearings in the spring, MPs complained they couldn’t obtain details of equipment shortages, or clear explanations of why the stockpile was not maintained.

“It’s an embarrassment to this country,” Ken Neumann, Canadian national director for the United Steelworkers union, testified May 6 at the Commons finance committee.

“We can’t produce our own equipment to protect our front line workers, to protect our people? What kind of society are we talking about?”

Auditors in 2011, specifically recommended the Public Health Agency maintain “pandemic preparedness supplies,” describing the stockpile as insurance against calamity.

“In many ways the emergency stockpile system is an insurance policy,” said auditors.

“No one ever wants to draw from that insurance policy because that would mean an undesirable event has happened and many people are affected.”

“However these types of events will continue to happen and Canada has to be prepared. There is a need for a stockpile of public health supplies managed by the federal government.”

Dave Naylor is the News Editor of the Western Standard

News Editor & Calgary Bureau Chief

Dave Naylor is News Editor & Calgary Bureau Chief of the Western Standard based in the Calgary Headquarters. He served as City Editor of the Calgary Sun & covered Alberta news for nearly 40 years.

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