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HomeBusinessCOVID: B.C. hospitals running out of masks, gloves and gowns, after Trudeau sent 16 tonnes to China in February

COVID: B.C. hospitals running out of masks, gloves and gowns, after Trudeau sent 16 tonnes to China in February


Bob Mackin

As the novel coronavirus spreads in Canada, with 3,400 confirmed cases and 35 deaths as of March 25, British Columbia’s provincial health officer changed her tune about the stock of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers and first responders.

Dr. Bonnie Henry in the empty press gallery theatre on March 25 (BC Gov)

On March 23, Dr. Bonnie Henry said she was not aware of any shortages in B.C., but her department was working with federal partners and monitoring inventory, as shipments were coming in.

Two days later, a 180-degree shift. Henry said that B.C. is now going through “way more” masks, gloves, goggles and gowns than expected. “We are on a tenuous level right now.”

“In the past week we have seen a dramatic increase in use as we’ve had more people with COVID19 in hospital and we understand the absolute need to keep people safe,” Henry said. “But the burn rate, as we call it, is much higher than we would have expected and we are putting in place measures now to try and control that and be more efficient and effective in how we’re using PPE.”

Henry said B.C. was reusing certain types of equipment, with proper cleaning, and even looking at alternative supplies “from around the world.”

Chinese consul general Tong Xiaoling, centre (

Henry’s sudden search may be the legacy of the Trudeau Liberals’ gift of 16 tonnes of gear to China in early February.

The federal government announced Feb. 9 that it began to send PPE to China on Feb. 4. The news release quoted Foreign Affairs minister François-Philippe Champagne and International Development Minister Karina Gould, sending their condolences and offering to “provide further assistance, as needed.”

Spokeswoman Krystyna Dodds of Global Affairs Canada told that the equipment was sourced through Canadian Red Cross and the government’s own supply and sent to the Red Cross Society of China. The shipment from Canada included: 200,000 nitrile gloves, 50,118 face shields, 36,425 coveralls, 3,000 aprons, 1,820 goggles and 1,101 masks.

Canada will continue to work to ensure that we have the equipment we need to fight this virus — and that our partners do too,” Dodds said by email. She did not disclose the cost to taxpayers.

At his daily news conference on March 26, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau downplayed the donation. He saidthe federal stockpiles have been sufficient to meet the needs of the provinces to this point” and millions more pieces will be arriving in the coming days. 

Chinese consulate staff not social distancing in Vancouver on March 23 (

The Trudeau Liberals were not alone in shifting bulk quantities of supplies from Canada to China. Business and cultural groups loyal to the Communist Party of China were heavily fundraising and buying goods.

On Jan. 31, the Richmond-based Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations said it snapped up 5,000 sets of protective materials such as clothing, disinfectant and masks for shipment to Wuhan.

On Feb. 22, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Canada and Guangdong Overseas Chinese Federation bought 60 cases of 120,000 disposable medical masks in the Philippines that were delivered to Wuhan via Guangzhou. 

Public Works and Government Services Canada’s procurement website is now urgently seeking suppliers of disposable N95 and surgical masks, surgical and medical gowns, nitrile and vinyl gloves, and bottles of hand sanitizer.

Meanwhile, on March 23, Xi Jinping’s envoy in Vancouver led consular staff in packaging masks and gloves in Ziploc bags for distribution to Chinese students at area universities.

In one photograph, Consul General Tong Xiaoling sports a pink mask. In another she appears in a group photo that does not follow the Henry-advised social distancing. Xi Jinping’s Vancouver diplomats are not standing two metres apart to avoid spreading the highly contagious virus that came from Wuhan.

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