OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is promising federal health authorities will not cut any corners when it comes to making sure masks provided by China meet the necessary standards for protecting Canadian health-care workers from catching COVID-19.
The comments follow the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa announcing that China is sending 30,000 medical masks along with thousands of gowns, gloves and goggles to Canada.
The pledge, published on Twitter amid reports Canadian hospitals and other health-care facilities are rationing such protective equipment, was met with messages of thanks from Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and others.
Yet there are reports the Dutch government is recalling around 600,000 defective masks that were recently shipped from China, some of which were distributed to various hospitals in the Netherlands. Spain has also raised concerns about Chinese-made COVID-19 testing kits that were faulty.
"We will be receiving equipment — masks and gloves and gowns — from China extremely shortly in the coming days," Trudeau said during his daily news conference outside his Ottawa home on Sunday.
"At the same time I can assure people that Health Canada has very strong procedures for evaluating (and) ensuring what we get is up to the necessary standards and there will be no corners cut on this one. We need to make sure that the equipment that our health-care workers rely on to keep them safe as they keep us safe is of a quality that is going to actually do the job."
The Dutch Ministry of Health confirmed Sunday that the country received a shipment of masks from a Chinese manufacturer on March 21 which, upon inspection, did not meet required standards.
"Part of this shipment had already been delivered to health-care providers," the ministry said in a statement to The Canadian Press.
"The remainder of this shipment was put on hold immediately and has not been distributed any further. A second test also proved that the face masks did not meet the required quality standards. It has now been decided to stop the use of this entire shipment."
New shipments will receive extra testing, the ministry added.
Countries around the world are currently scrambling to obtain protective masks for health-care providers on the frontlines of treating patients with COVID-19, as hospitals and other facilities begin to ration their supplies to prevent a shortage.
Canada's chief public health officer Theresa Tam suggested such measures are largely pre-emptive at this point as hospitals try to cut down on waste and ensure they don't run out of supplies as the federal government is "pulling out all the stops" to get more equipment for them.
"Responding to a pandemic is also about handling and prioritizing your most critical and scarce resources, so hospitals on the frontline are practicing how they can make sure that they can reduce what we call the burn rate and not waste resources as well," she said.
"I think you're seeing some of that practice going on pre-emptively because you can't burn through a lot of personal protective equipment. So it's the effort to preserve them as much as possible while we are still getting some more."
While many health-care professionals are focused on getting more protective equipment, deputy chief public health officer Howard Njoo said the federal government has launched another count on the number of ventilators in the country, even as it works to secure more.
Njoo could not say how many ventilators Canada might need, noting that will depend on the degree to which social distancing and other measures work to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and keep people out of hospitals.
"What we're planning to do is actually prepare the system so that we will never have to have that peak requirement for a certain number of ventilators at one time. As we have said, we want to flatten the curve. All the steps we are taking across the country are aimed at that."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 29, 2020.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press