Before I get into the topic du jour, here is today’s numbers for the countries that I have been watching

Country Total Cases Active Cases Deaths
China 81,639 1,558 3,326
Italy 124,632 88,274 15,362
USA 300,106 277,501 8,141
Canada 12,924 10,388 214
COVID-19 on April 4th 2020
 

The USA continues to struggle with the pandemic. New York has become the global ‘epicenter’ of COVID-19. In Europe, Italy seems to be declining, while their neighbor Spain is grappling with the issue now. Canada is, I believe, doing very well. With a comparatively low population and greater geographic distribution, we are in better position to fight the pandemic organically. Quebec and Ontario are struggling, but the rest of Canada is hunkered down and following the guidelines. There has been speculation that China’s numbers are …. inaccurate (Source).


Frenemy – fren-uh-mee

Informal – a person or group that is friendly toward another because the relationship brings benefits, but harbors feelings of resentment or rivalry.

Source


February 2020

In early February, 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic was certainly in the North American news cycle, but more as a distant issue than an urgent one. To put that into perspective, President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial began on January 16, and ended in acquittal on February 5th. That is what dominated headlines during this period.
While the world was watching the media circus in the US, Canada was doing it’s usual good deeds. In early February (4th – 9th), Canada shipped approximately 16 tonnes of personal protective equipment, such as clothing, face shields, masks, goggles and gloves to China. (Source) The press release doesn’t mention where the PPE came from, I have to guess that it was our emergency reserves. As medical relief is often one of Canada’s contributions to the UN, I suspect that we hold reserve equipment for the purpose. But, that’s just a guess.

 
 
As usual, life is full of bitter ironies. This will give you an idea of where my head was at, at that time. As Canada was shipping their reserves of medical PPE to China, I was (ironically) ordering six N95 masks on Amazon. Also ironically, the order was filled and shipped out of China. I find it a bit odd that, while COVID-19 was ravaging China, and a portion of the country was on (involuntary) lock-down, some company in China was still working enough to ship me six masks that were ordered on Amazon.

I also, by the way, found that some of my friends were a little miffed that I ordered masks on Amazon. Some think that those should not be ordered in an effort to save them for healthcare workers. But, I will get into the ‘controversy’ of me posting articles about PPE shenanigans on Facebook another time.


March 2020

On March 27th, China returned the favor by sending medical PPE back to Canada (Source). By this time the virus was on the decline in China, it looked like things were going to be ok. China was through the worst of it, and since we were all pulling together, it looked like we could beat this thing together, and wind-up stronger allies in the end.

Unfortunately, as Canada’s shipment was on it’s way, other countries were already opening and distributing their shipments from China. The Netherlands, Spain, Turkey, Georgia and the Czech Republic all found that the gear and test kits that China had shipped were substandard (Source). The Dutch health ministry was forced to recall 600,000 face masks, from the Chinese shipment, that had been distributed to their health care workers on March 26th.

“The Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa said the country had bought $467 million in medical supplies from China, including 950 ventilators, 5.5 million testing kits, 11 million gloves, and more than half a billion protective face masks. Soon after receiving the supplies, the government announced plans to return 9,000 “quick result” test kits to China, because they were deemed substandard, specifically the sensibility of the test was around 30 percent when it should be higher than 80 percent.”

Prime Minister Trudeau, on March 29th, told Canadians that “We will be receiving equipment — masks and gloves and gowns — from China extremely shortly in the coming days, at the same time I can assure people that Health Canada has very strong procedures for evaluating (and) ensuring what we get is up to the necessary standards and there will be no corners cut on this one. We need to make sure that the equipment that our health-care workers rely on to keep them safe as they keep us safe is of a quality that is going to actually do the job.” (Source)

 

 

 

On March 31st, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that Ottawa had allocated $2 Billion for medical PPE to be built in Canada (Source). Among other things, here are a few quotes from the article; “Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said the government ordered 60 million N95 masks — a type of mask designed and fitted to filter out particles that carry the COVID-19 virus — which will begin arriving this week. The federal government also has ordered close to 1,570 ventilators and more than a million COVID-19 test kits. Anand said the government also is trying to secure an additional 4,000 ventilators — a crucial piece of equipment in a battle against a disease that attacks the lungs and can make it difficult for people to breathe on their own.”

“Trudeau said close to 3,000 companies have reached out to offer their help since then.”

“Trudeau’s announcement comes a day before China rolls out a new export regime governing how the personal protective equipment it manufactures can be shipped abroad. According to a Chinese Ministry of Commerce statement issued today, starting April 1 Chinese exporters have to make masks, ventilators, gowns, face shields and other pandemic equipment to the standards of the country where the goods are being shipped.”


April 2020

While China accepting top-tier products in donations and then sending substandard supplies to the world in repayment in March seems dark, things started to really go off the rails in April.  

On April 2nd, CNN reported that President Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to clear up supply-chain issues encountered in the manufacturing of ventilators and to ensure the production of additional N95 face masks (Source). From the article; “It also directs acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to ‘use any and all authority available under the Act to facilitate the supply of materials’ to these companies.” Soon, those words would become far more ominous.

On April 3rd, the world began to see what Trump had in mind. He wasn’t alone as the world began to beg, borrow or steal medical PPE. Here are a few examples.

‘An act of modern piracy’: A mask shipment from 3M bound for Germany was reportedly diverted to the US, reported Business Insider. From the article; “A shipment of masks made by the US manufacturer 3M that was bound for Germany was diverted in Thailand and sent to the United States instead, the Financial Times reported on Friday. The diversion of the 200,000 protective masks intended for healthcare workers and emergency staff members in Berlin was “an act of modern piracy,” Andreas Geisel, Berlin’s interior minister, told the Financial Times. President Donald Trump on Thursday invoked the Defense Production Act to force 3M, based in Minnesota, to prioritize making protective equipment like masks for the US.”

“US hijacking mask shipments in rush for corona virus protection.” Reports The Guardian on April 3rd. From the article; “US buyers waving wads of cash managed to wrestle control of a consignment of masks as it was about to be dispatched from China to one of the worst-hit corona virus areas of France, according to two French officials. The masks were on a plane at Shanghai airport that was ready to take off when the US buyers turned up and offered three times what their French counterparts were paying. Jean Rottner, a doctor and president of the GrandEst regional council, said part of the order of several million masks heading for the region, where intensive care units are inundated with Covid-19 patients, had been lost to the buyers. “On the tarmac, they arrive, get the cash out … so we really have to fight,” he told RTL radio.”

Also from the article above; “Turkey allegedly went further, not only banning exports of protective gear but also appearing to renege on foreign sales of masks that had already been paid for.” … “Turkey has also threatened to commandeer domestic mask producers to make sure they are provided only to the state. The local news outlet Hurriyet quoted the interior minister, Süleyman Soylu, as saying that authorities would seize factories if companies did not agree to sell on an exclusive basis to the health ministry.”

Also from above, “A similar incident occurred in Kenya, where a shipment of up to six million masks bound for Germany mysteriously disappeared while passing through the east African country, although there has been no suggestion that the government was responsible.”

This NY Times article (Source) paints an interesting picture of the mask market. From the article; ‘In China, the competition is intense. A small number of Chinese factories are certified by the Food and Drug Administration to make N95 masks, and “those are the diamonds right now,” said Lily Liu, a Chinese hospital executive turned Silicon Valley entrepreneur who now helps run Operation Masks. “What’s happening at those factories is France shows up in the morning, and then they get Germany at breakfast, and then Italy after lunch, and then the U.S. in the afternoon,” she said. “In between they get distributors showing up at their doorstep with stacks of cash.”’

In Massachusetts, according to WCVB (ABC affiliate), ‘3 million masks ordered by Massachusetts were confiscated in Port of New York’ … ‘Gov. Charlie Baker said a complicated international plan to purchase over 1 million N95 masks for Massachusetts health care workers and first-responders was hatched after a previous order was confiscated in the Port of New York. “Around the time that we had our 3 million masks that we had ordered through BJs confiscated in the port of New York, at that point it became pretty clear to us that using what I would describe as sort of a ‘traditional approach to this’ wasn’t going to work,” Baker said Thursday. The governor did not specify the agency responsible for confiscating the masks.’ (Source)

On April 4th, as reported by CBC, “Medical device manufacturer 3M says it is under pressure from the White House to stop exporting N95 masks it currently produces in the United States to other countries, including Canada. The Minnesota-based company said in a news release Friday that while it welcomes the Trump administration’s invocation of the Defense Production Act (DPA) to compel domestic companies to produce critically needed medical infrastructure, it presents some problems, too. Among other things, the order mandates that 3M stop making N95 masks that are destined for customers in Canada and Latin America, and instead keep them in the U.S.” Adrian Dix, BC’s Health Minister, responded with the comments; “This is part of the challenge in something of such essential supply of having one country of the world having significant control over the supply chain. That said, I would note raw materials that are involved here also come from Canada. We live in a community that’s strongly linked together and we hope that Canada and the United States can find a solution to this.” (Source)

The World Health Organization (WHO) reversed it’s previous directive that only sick people and health care workers should wear masks. (Source) From the article; ‘As the world grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic which has made more than a million people sick and caused more than 58,000 deaths so far, one issue has divided the international medical community: should everyone wear masks to slow the spread of the Covid-19? From the start, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said the answer was ‘no’. Masks should be worn by those who are sick, and medical and care workers, according to the global body. There was no need for people who are well to wear them. That position was adopted by countries such as the United States, Britain, much of Europe, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa and Singapore. They emphasized frequent hand washing and social distancing, by keeping at least a meter apart from others in public places, and the need to save available masks for health care workers. … All that changed this week. On Friday, both the US and Singapore switched to advising citizens to wear masks when they leave their homes. The WHO also made a U-turn itself, with Ryan saying: “We can certainly see circumstances on which the use of masks, both home-made and cloth masks, at the community level may help with an overall comprehensive response to this disease.”

Lastly, an editorial from Brian Lilley of the Torono Sun confirming my thoughts on the topic (here).

— This entry will be updated as the situation continues to develop —