Quality control issues – including the delivery of approximately 10 million substandard N95 respirators – highlight some of the challenges the government faces when trying to gain a foothold in the global PPE market. constant evolution.
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“There will not be enough supply to meet demand,” said Omar Allam, founder and CEO of Allam Advisory Group (AAG).
A recent market study by AAG, an Ottawa-based trade and export consulting firm, forecasts that demand for medical and non-medical grade masks in Canada over the next four months will be 750 million units and 3.3 billion units over the next few months. year.
Meanwhile, the government has touted its efforts to obtain PPE from around the world. Last week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced an agreement with GM to produce 10 million Canadian-made masks for front-line workers.
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Despite the slight increase in domestic production, Allam believes that much remains to be done to ensure that the country’s PPE supply is sufficient.
He also said that manufacturers such as automakers may have to start manufacturing cars and other products again, which means that other companies will have to fill the production gap once normal business has resumed.
“We need pioneers,” said Allam.
Supply and demand
Minister of Public Services and Supplies Anita Anand said Tuesday that the government continues to purchase large quantities of PPE from international suppliers. This includes dozens of supply plans in the past 10 weeks, mostly from Chinese manufacturers.
As for sufficient PPE, Anand said the government is placing bulk orders beyond what the provinces have requested – although it has not specified exactly how much PPE will be required.
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“Regarding the establishment of a ceiling for personal protective equipment, it is always an analysis that we undertake as we see the demand for personal protective equipment continue to grow,” said Anand in a interview with the Canadian Press in late May.
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According to government data, the quantity of PPE delivered so far is significantly lower than that ordered. For certain items, such as gloves, the government received less than 5% of its total order.
“The problem is that the market is inundated with good products that are credible and that there are a lot of shady products on the market because some people are just trying to make a quick buck,” said Allam.
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As of May 26, the federal government has ordered approximately 330 million surgical-grade masks and has received 100 million. She ordered a billion pairs of gloves and received 40 million.
The government has also ordered approximately 150 million N95 masks – those used by health care professionals and other front-line workers – but, as reported by the Globe and Mail in May, the government was forced to cancel orders for around 50 million masks last month due to quality issues. , including the delivery of 9.8 million lower quality masks from a Chinese manufacturer supplied by a Montreal-based company.
To date, the government has received 11.9 million N95 masks, of which only two million meet quality standards. This represents less than 2% of the government’s total order of 107 million N95 respirators.
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Mahesh Nagarajan, an applied mathematician and supply chain expert at the University of British Columbia, said that the amount of PPE delivered so far is minuscule compared to what the government has ordered.
He also said that governments have trouble deciding the real demand for PPE. Indeed, it is still unclear how the economies will reopen and what type of security requirements will be put in place.
If schools require teachers and students to wear masks when they reopen, it will have a significant impact on global demand, said Nagarajan. The type and quality of PPE used for different activities will also play an important role in determining the quantity required.
“The government is struggling,” he said.
Well-established supply chains – including manufacturers and suppliers – were also overwhelmed by the sudden spike in demand, he said. This has led to the emergence of new manufacturers with few quality controls and suppliers turning to untested sources of PPE.
“It all sort of went to the dogs with this massive fluctuation in demand,” said Nagarajan.
National PPE production
Trudeau reiterated the remarks on Tuesday, saying the government had already delivered hundreds of millions of pieces of PPE to front-line workers across the country.
However, he also acknowledged that there is still a long way to go to ensure a reliable supply of PPE, especially as the economy begins to reopen.
“As we revive the economy, the demand for supplies will increase,” said Trudeau. “Canada must be able to follow.”
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Pressed to explain apparent gaps in the amount of PPE received so far – and how close Canada is to meeting its domestic production targets – Trudeau said government is working to secure supply international and national.
“We have started domestic production of many of these items so that we do not have to rely solely on foreign imports,” he said.
“We continue to have enough supplies to supply the provinces and their needs at this time. But when we reopen, we know we will need more. ”
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The government has stepped up domestic procurement efforts since the start of the COVID-19 epidemic, including an agreement with GM to produce 10 million masks over the next year, as well as another agreement with Medicom, based in Montreal, to produce 20 million masks.
Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains said more than 700 Canadian companies have re-equipped and started producing PPE, including gowns, face shields, masks and hand sanitizer.
The government also announced an agreement with Vexos, an electronics manufacturer in Markham, Ontario, to produce 10,000 fans made in Canada.
“Throughout this period of crisis, we continue to see Canadian companies across the country making significant contributions to the fight against COVID-19,” said Mr. Bains.
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But Allam and Nagarajan say there is still a long way to go before Canada achieves its PPE goals.
This means that Canadian producers must ensure that the supply chains for raw materials and other items needed to make protective equipment are available, and that government investments in domestic production and innovation PPE continues even after the pandemic has subsided.
In the long term, Allam estimates that at least 40% of PPE should come from domestic production.
This, he said, aims to ensure a reliable supply for continuous use and to fill the country’s strategic national stock, which will become even more important if a second wave of COVID-19 strikes and when future pandemics arrive.
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