Canada’s department of Global Affairs shipped 16 tonnes of personal protective equipment to China last month to help Beijing fight the novel coronavirus, an effort that it undertook even after the World Health Organization had warned countries to prepare for possible cases.
Critics are questioning the wisdom of exporting gear overseas just weeks before it was sorely needed in Canada. The Canadian government, however, says the shipment was an effort to collaborate with China in the fight against COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
On Feb. 9, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne’s department announced that since Feb. 4, “Canada has deployed approximately 16 tonnes of personal protective equipment, such as clothing, face shields, masks, goggles and gloves” to China.
The Asian country was already deep into its own fight against COVID-19 by this point. “Our deepest thoughts are with all those affected by this outbreak,” Mr. Champagne noted in a statement announcing the gift. International Development Minister Karina Gould said in the same statement that “personal protective equipment is essential to prevent and limit the spread of the virus.”
The WHO on Jan. 30 had already declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern” and said “it is expected that further international exportation of cases may appear in any country.”
The UN agency had warned that “all countries should be prepared for containment, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management.” By Feb. 7, the WHO also predicted “severe coronavirus-related disruptions” in supply of personal protective equipment.
Amir Attaran, a professor at University of Ottawa’s school of epidemiology and public health and its faculty of law, said he was surprised to learn Global Affairs shipped personal protective equipment (PPE) to China.
“It was absolutely certain in early February that we would need this equipment,” he said. “This decision went beyond altruism into high negligence and incompetence because Canada did not, and does not, have surplus equipment to spare.”
Some of the very equipment Global Affairs shipped to China is in high demand in Canada, from masks to other protective gear.
Adam Austen, deputy director of communications for Mr. Champagne, said Canada’s shipment to China was an effort to co-operate in the fight against the virus.