The Canadian government says the China-based supplier that sold it approximately one million faulty masks has pledged to send replacements.
The masks in question are KN95 respirator masks, a Chinese version of the N95 respirator masks that are designed to prevent the transfer of airborne particles and are a crucial piece of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ottawa is not seeking a refund but is instead expecting to receive a new batch that will meet health care standards.
Also, Friday, the government revealed that while it has ordered more than 155 million N95-type respirator masks, it has only received about 5.3 million and a “significant portion remain under testing" – meaning that they aren’t available yet for distribution to Canadian health workers.
Ottawa declined to identify the company that manufactured the flawed masks when asked Friday.
Conservative MP Garnett Genuis said he doesn’t understand why Canada isn’t demanding a refund and dropping the supplier.
“It does seem like we are being taken advantage of here.”
As The Globe and Mail reported earlier this week, the one million respirator masks purchased from China were tested by the Public Health Agency of Canada after being delivered and found to fall short of the required standards for use “in health care settings.”
Bill Matthews, deputy minister of the department of Public Services and Procurement, told a parliamentary committee Friday that in many cases, the faulty masks had a problem “with their elastics."
Mr. Matthews, who also did not identify the company that provided the masks, said the Canadian government has an “ongoing relationship with the supplier” and Ottawa’s expectation “is we are getting replacement product." He said replacement masks "will have to meet our standards.”
It remains unclear how many replacement masks Canada will actually receive. Ottawa is trying to find other uses for the flawed respirator masks in non-health care settings and a spokeswoman for Public Services and Procurement suggested this could reduce the number of replacements received.
“Our supplier will replace masks that do not meet specifications at no cost to Canada, unless there is a need for their non-medical use,” Stéfanie Hamel said in a statement.
The department of Public Services and Procurement did not immediately answer further questions Friday on the details of this replacement policy.
Stephen Arbib, chief executive officer at Momentum Solutions, a Toronto-based logistics and air charter provider, has been shipping personal protective equipment out of China during the pandemic. His company’s clients include the Canadian government and foreign governments.
He said he’s heard “absolute nightmare stories” of governments from around the world ending up with fraudulent product, or no product at all, after making purchases.
Mr. Arbib declined to identify the governments in question but said he’s aware of incidents where governments receive a plane full of boxes where only the top boxes have face masks.
“It’s really challenging," he said. "We have a client that booked a bunch of flights and sent a plane to pick up a bunch of product from South America and the plane arrived there and there was no product to pick up and there was nobody to talk to. They prepaid for several flights but they never sent anybody there to inspect it.”
He said it’s crucial for governments to ensure they have a validation service such as SGS, headquartered in Geneva, which can inspect and certify products, before taking delivery. He said that can add US$5,000 to US$10,000 to the bill but is worth it.
Mr. Arbib said KN95 respirator masks currently cost between US$2 to US$4 and that a million masks, such as the order Ottawa has found to be flawed, would carry a total price tag of perhaps US$3.5-million, an amount that would justify the extra inspection cost.
Also, the Momentum CEO said, it’s difficult to understand why the two chartered planes, which recently flew home empty to Canada after being unable to pick up their medical supplies in Shanghai in time, didn’t just park in Hong Kong while their crew rested, and new landing permits were obtained, before heading back.
With reports from Marieke Walsh in Ottawa
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