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HomeBusinessCOVID Exclusive: Email shows B.C. premier’s office knew medical mask supplies were scarce in mid-February

COVID Exclusive: Email shows B.C. premier’s office knew medical mask supplies were scarce in mid-February


Bob Mackin (published April 23; updated April 25)

While some in the press gallery are helping to flog Fluevog fashions for famous feet during the coronavirus pandemic, the priority at remains frontline function.

The federal government admits a million KN95 masks did not meet Canadian standards because of defective elastics and will not be shipped to provinces where doctors, nurses and paramedics need the respirators for their protection. KN95 masks are the Chinese standard (similar to N95) that B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said on April 21 would be accepted in B.C.

3M N95 mask

This happens the same week that two Canadian government-chartered flights returned to Canada from Shanghai empty. Ottawa says the cargo did not make it to Pudong airport in time for loading and Chinese authorities refused to let the planes wait any longer. The spokesman for China’s foreign ministry denied the report. B.C. officials have not commented on impacts to west coast supply chains.

Meanwhile, an email message exclusively obtained by under the freedom of information law shows that Premier John Horgan’s staff knew on Feb. 19 that domestic supplies of masks, gloves, goggles and gowns were already running low.

A summary of Chinese-language media coverage by Catherine Chan, the director of community and media relations, mentioned a group that faced difficulty buying medical supplies for Wuhan healthcare workers and patients.

“A group called ‘Canada Chinese Professionals Society’ has raised $500,000 but could only purchase $60,000 worth of medical supplies due to shortages such as make, gloves and protective goggles,” Chan wrote. “This raised concerns whether North America is prepared for outbreaks, and should asses the amount of medical supplies we would need.”

Chan’s email also mentioned labour unions representing nurses across Canada were “concerned over insufficient guidelines and protective apparatus for frontline healthcare workers. The standard below other country (sic) which is unacceptable.”

B.C. NDP trade minister George Chow (right) and Consul-Gen. Tong Xiaoling on April 24 (PRC)

The fundraising group was the Toronto-based Chinese Professionals Association of Canada, which sent three batches of PPE to Hubei province by the end of February.

CPAC was among several groups in Ontario and B.C., friendly with the Communist Party regime, that raised money to buy wholesale supplies of medical-grade PPE in Canada for export to China.

CPAC raised $58,000 on GoFundMe and other channels by mid-February. Executive director Andi Shi told CBC that it could have raised up to $500,000, if Canadian supplies were ample. CPAC’s supplier refused to take more orders. In early April, CPAC joined a campaign to raise $2 million to buy PPE for Ontario healthcare workers.

Earlier in February, the federal Liberal government donated 16 tonnes of PPE to China and the World Health Organization’s head, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that global demand was 100 times higher, prices 20 times more than normal, and backlogs would last four to six months.

“The Ministry of Health began planning for increased PPE needs early on,” Horgan spokeswoman Jen Holmwood told “Work to source medical-grade PPE was already well underway by mid-February. The B.C. Government continues to work round the clock to meet the demand for PPE in B.C.”

B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry called B.C.’s inventory “tenuous” on March 25.

On April 21, Dix said B.C. received 3.7 million respirators, of which 3 million were N95 and 700,000 KN95. He did not reveal the cost.

“While 3M is our traditional supplier, other manufacturers can and do produce N95 respirators,” Dix told reporters. “It’s about the standard, not the brand.”

Also April 21, the Chinese Embassy revealed that Xi Jinping’s top man in Ottawa spoke by phone with Horgan. A statement on the embassy website said Cong Peiwu expressed sympathies for B.C. during the April 17 call.

Louis Huang protested outside Meng Wanzhou’s March 6 court date (Mackin) wanted to know whether Horgan mentioned China’s suppression of information about the virus when it emerged late last year in Wuhan or if Horgan asked about Canadian hostages Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor.

The two Michaels have been jailed more than 500 days in retaliation for the detention of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou. Meng lives under curfew at her Shaughnessy mansion while contesting extradition to the U.S.

Said Holmwood: “The premier and ambassador spoke by phone, reaffirming the strong cultural and historic relationship between China and Canada, and in particular with B.C.’s sister province Guangdong. The premier also thanked the ambassador for the supply of PPE China has been providing to Canada. They did not discuss any particular individuals nor did they discuss China’s handling of the coronavirus.”

Holmwood said the phone call lasted 10 minutes.

A week after Horgan spoke with Cong, the NDP government’s junior trade minister George Chow and the executive in charge of buying supplies for B.C. hospitals, Melinda Mui of the Provincial Health Services Authority, visited the Chinese consulate mansion in Shaughnessy for a photo op.

On April 24, Chow and Mui accepted 56 boxes of medical supplies donated from Guangdong province, according to a statement from the consulate. This year is the 25th anniversary of Guangdong and B.C.’s sister province relationship.

Mui is the interim vice-president in charge of B.C.’s $2 billion-a-year hospital supply management program. Mui did not comment on the donation, but instead referred to the PHSA communications office.

Vice-president of communications Laurie Dawkins told that the 500 disposable coveralls, 10,000 pairs of medical exam gloves, 10,000 disposable surgical masks and 51,200 disposable medical masks have a total estimated value of $116,800.  

“In the days ahead, the donated supplies will be inspected following PHSA’s established clinical review process; upon approval, the supplies will be deployed for use with health authorities across the province,” Dawkins wrote in an email to recently reported on the consulate’s donation of 500 N95 masks to Vancouver General and St. Paul’s hospitals, but the consulate now says it also donated masks to the Vancouver Police Department and First Nations Summit.

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