·  Blacklock's Reporter

Canada Had to Test Masks in Florida

The Department of Health was so poorly prepared for the outbreak of the pandemic it had to send masks to Florida for safety testing, say internal records. And the number of ventilators stored in a $300 million national stockpile was only one percent of what was needed.

“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. “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,” wrote staff. “We will have to send samples to Florida.”

The department was mandated to keep a four months’ supply of masks, gowns, ventilators and other pandemic goods. 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. However records confirm the Agency had only 539 ventilators at the time. It subsequently ordered 40,547 from manufacturers. “All deliveries are expected by March 2021,” wrote staff.

The stockpile also had only a few thousand high-grade N95 masks. When the Government of British Columbia asked for quick delivery of 550,000 masks last March 24, staff found only 6,000 in federal warehouses. Two million were thrown out months before when the Public Health Agency closed a depot in Regina.

Shortages were so severe political aides in the Prime Minister’s Office said cabinet might have to order private manufacturers to retool their factories. “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.”

MPs at parliamentary hearings last spring complained they could not 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?” said Neumann. “What kind of society are we talking about?”

Auditors in a 2011 Evaluation Of The National Emergency Stockpile System 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 Evaluation. “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,” said the report. “There is a need for a stockpile of public health supplies managed by the federal government.”

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