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HomeBusinessCOVID Exclusive: Mask donations arrive, from pro-Beijing group that exported scarce Canadian supplies to China

COVID Exclusive: Mask donations arrive, from pro-Beijing group that exported scarce Canadian supplies to China


Bob Mackin

Yongtao Chen (second from right) with Chinese consul officials on Feb. 12 (Canadian Sichuan Association)

The real estate investor who heads a Richmond-based umbrella group aligned with the Chinese Communist Party led a campaign to donate $120,000 in medical supplies and money to Lower Mainland hospitals on April 9.

But, three months earlier, Yongtao Chen of the Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations spearheaded the bulk purchase of Canadian supplies of masks, goggles, disinfectant and clothing for shipment to China, as the coronavirus was spreading from Wuhan around the country.

Just before Easter weekend, Chen and members of CACA visited Vancouver General Hospital, Richmond General Hospital and Burnaby General Hospital, where they delivered boxes containing 36,000 masks and 1,700 pieces of clothing. They also came with $8,000 cheques for each of the hospitals. Lions Gate Hospital in North Vancouver was also provided a $5,100 cheque.

“With the domestic epidemic situation in our home country gradually stabilizing and the Canadian epidemic situation intensifying, we should contribute to this beautiful home where we live in the spirit of connecting hands, guarding the soil, working side by side, and fighting the epidemic together,” read a translation of the post on the Dawa website.

In January, Chen and CACA raised $150,000 to buy masks, gloves and clothing in Canada to send to China. On Feb. 12, he was photographed with officials of the Chinese consulate in Vancouver arranging logistics for the donation of 1,400 cases of personal protective equipment worth almost $500,000 for shipment to Sichuan province in China.

Canadian Alliance of Chinese Associations donation at VGH on April 9 (Dawa)

CACA, which Chen chairs, is an umbrella organization for hundreds of businesses and cultural groups aligned with consulate and affiliated with the Communist Party’s United Front foreign influence and lobbying program.

Chen was one of 40 foreign delegates invited by the Chinese government to attend the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in March 2019. He returned to Beijing last October for the 70th anniversary celebration of Communist Party rule and travelled with Hilbert Yiu, the president of the Chinese Benevolent Association in Vancouver’s Chinatown. Yiu coordinated an ad campaign last summer against the Hong Kong pro-democracy protest movement.

On April 3, Consul General Tong Xiaoling and her staff hosted a so-called “health package” distribution ceremony at the consular mansion in Shaughnessy. The packages were offered via WeChat to students from China in K-12 and university who are in the area.

Yongtao Chen (left), Wang Dianqi and Hilbert Yiu at China’s 70th anniversary celebration in Beijing. (Canada TCNews/WeChat)

The safety and health of overseas Chinese students has always been a concern of the party and the country,” read a translation of the consular website’s Chinese page. “To help everyone do their personal epidemic prevention work, the party and the government promptly distribute to Chinese students in countries seriously affected by the epidemic with masks, disinfectant wipes, and guidelines for epidemic prevention.”

The previous week, Tong donated 500 N95 masks to Vancouver General and St. Paul’s hospitals.

Dr. Tedros Adhanon Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization, warned Feb. 7 that PPE demand was 100 times normal and prices 20 times higher because of the widespread non-medical use of PPE.

“There are now depleted stockpiles and backlogs of four-to-six months,” Tedros said. “Global stocks of masks and respirators are now insufficient to meet the needs of WHO and our partners.”

The federal government went ahead anyway with a 16-tonne donation shipment to China that was announced Feb. 9.

Chinese consulate mansion in Vancouver April 3 (Frank Qi/Canadian Program Centre)

On March 25, B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry called B.C. was going through “way more PPE than we expected, so we are on a tenuous level.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on April 4 announced chartered cargo flights by Cargojet and Air Canada to import more PPE from China where the government had leased a warehouse in China to collect and distribute items as quickly as possible.

Did the donations pass quality control and get into the hands of doctors and nurses treating coronavirus patients? Vancouver Coastal Health spokeswoman Carrie Stefanson declined to comment on specific donations.

PPE imports have not been without pitfalls. Netherlands, Toronto and Ireland have been forced to recall hundreds of thousands of masks and other items. Former UFC champ Conor McGregor took to Twitter to complain about shoddy quality and price gouging.

“Ludicrously inhumane behaviour,” Tweeted McGregor, Ireland’s most-famous athlete.

Consul General Tong Xiaoling on April 3 (Frank Qi/Canadian Program Centre)

At his April 9 news conference, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said “we’re taking our time to inspect and test any and all PPE that comes into B.C. before it gets near the health care system.”

Dix said the B.C. government bought 800,000 surgical masks, 54,000 N95 masks, 157,000 isolation gowns and 85,000 pairs of gloves, and received 900,000 surgical masks and 36,000 N95 masks from the federal government.

Dix also said there were donations of 100,000 surgical masks, 83,000 N95 masks, 20,000 pairs of gloves and 1,760 protective coveralls.

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