CALGARY – While concerns are mounting that Canadian medical personnel may experience a shortage of masks, gloves and gowns in their fight against the coronavirus pandemic, the federal and provincial governments of Canada have spent a month securing new supply chains for critical protective and medical equipment.
On Saturday, the first flight of many candidates from Shanghai arrived on a Cargojet Inc. aircraft. carrying more than 80,000 pounds of personal medical protective equipment (PPE) arrived in Hamilton, Ontario.
Mississauga-based Cargojet had never previously flown to China, but would make other medical supplies run for the federal government, two for the Alberta government and two for the British Columbia government because new supply chains for medical equipment were built during the pandemic.
“We can see anywhere from an average of four to five flights a week in and out of China over the next three to four weeks,” said Ajay Virmani, president and CEO of Cargojet, adding that the government and companies in Canada have worked without stopped for the past month to build a new supply route for Canadian medical supplies.
Virmani said the big push to get additional PPE for medical personnel began long before US President Donald Trump ordered 3M, based at 3M to stop exporting N95 masks to foreign countries including Canada. At that time, both Alberta and Ontario increased the likelihood of mask shortages.
The US government does allow the export of N95 respirators to Canada but the situation highlights the need to build new supplies for domestic hospitals, clinics and senior facilities.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government had chartered flights from Cargojet and Air Canada to send the millions of masks needed in the fight against the virus and highlighted the importance of logistics workers. “I want to take a moment to thank everyone, whether you work in a warehouse, fly a plane part of the ground crew,” Trudeau said.
Building this new supply chain is a time-consuming and difficult job for governments and companies, Virmani said.
“There is tremendous pressure on buyers to have boots in China because most Americans hit us. They buy anything and everything that is seen, “said Virmani, noting that there is an ongoing bidding war for major medical supplies.
It took one month for special work but the Canadian government has built or strengthened channels in China to obtain medical PPE, winning the bidding war when the pandemic continues and countries around the world are struggling to get supplies.
The company, meanwhile, is required to adhere to very strict protocols when they fly in and out of China, the country where the co-19 outbreak began in Wuhan city in late 2019.
Virmani said his company had identified a team of 10 to 12 pilots who would travel to and from Shanghai. When they arrived at the airport, Chinese government officials conducted a corona virus test, then drove the pilots to the hospital where they were asked to rest for 15 hours while they were waiting for their test results.
If the trials are positive, they will be asked to stay in China in isolation for 14 days.
Additional precautions have been taken to ensure that because critical supplies are sent across borders during the global pandemic, logistics workers remain safe.
“In the end, the supply chain is like a human chain. If the supply chain will be damaged, it’s because of the human chain. There are so many precautions here about it – it feels like preparing to go to war, “Virmani said, adding that his team members wore masks, gloves and sometimes faced shields as they worked.
In the coming week, Virmani said his crew would travel back to Shanghai to secure additional supplies for Alberta and British Columbia.
“We have recently signed contracts totaling more than $ 200 million and this contract will cover tens of millions of dresses, millions of N95 masks, tens of millions of procedure masks and many other products,” Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro told a press conference on Saturday, adding supplies came from “companies from all over the world.”
Shandro said the provincial government had increased the number of acute care places and intensive care beds and ventilators in the province to a point that was “more than enough to meet projected demand for hospital services during the peak of the virus.”
As a result, Shandro said the province was in a position to “look beyond our borders and help provinces that might struggle.”
The province announced it will send 250,000 N95 masks, 2.5 million procedural masks, 15 million gloves, 87,000 goggles and 50 ventilators to Ontario and similar numbers of masks and gloves to Quebec and 250,000 N95 masks to BC.
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