By Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — As the federal government continues to pack its shopping cart full of COVID-19 supplies, it’s also launching a one-stop shop for Canadians hoping to do the same.
A new portal was unveiled Tuesday that’s intended to both help link commercial buyers and sellers of personal protective equipment and provide guidance to Canadians on what they may want to consider for themselves as they return to work.
“As restrictions are gradually being lifted, it is even more important to ensure front-line workers have the equipment they need,” federal Procurement Minister Anita Anand said Tuesday.
“And we have to work together to ensure this is the case.”
The federal government is spending billions of dollars acquiring everything from ventilators to masks, though a full accounting is not expected for months.
They’ve signed many contracts using national security exemptions, and in turn are not disclosing how much they are spending to snap up gear that is in high demand around the world.
Close to 60 planeloads of supplies have now landed in Canada, Anand said Tuesday, along with a cargo ship that docked in Vancouver over the weekend with 160,000 litres of hand sanitizer on board.
She said a second ship with 32 shipping containers of hand sanitizer was scheduled to dock Tuesday and six more were on the way.
Hand sanitizer is also one of the many items Canadian companies have retooled to produce since the pandemic took hold in Canada in March.
The government announced new contracts with local companies Tuesday, including Joseph Ribkoff, a fashion manufacturer based out of Dorval, Que., which will provide 1.2 million gowns, with deliveries starting in July.
While the government is purchasing hundreds of millions of items, it has acknowledged the reality that much will arrive and be placed on shelves to await future large-scale outbreaks of COVID-19.
For example, close to 40,000 ventilators have been ordered, but less than 500 have arrived so far.
The peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada came when the cupboard of supplies was relatively bare.
In the early days, hospitals were rationing crucial N-95 masks and in long-term care homes, for example, orderlies were forced to use garbage bags after running out of gowns.
Efforts to flatten the curve did help avoid a crush at hospitals that could have easily overwhelmed the supplies on hand.
The Liberals have faced extensive criticism for the fact Canada’s national stockpile of medical supplies didn’t have what was needed at the start of the pandemic.
Anand has since struck an advisory council to help guide decisions on how to avoid supply chain struggles for medical gear in the future.
The government has also said it is trying to get ahead of future runs on supplies, including those required in the production or distribution of any vaccine that might be developed. Among the purchases already announced — 37 million syringes, which would be one for nearly every Canadian.