Canada turns to maritime to help move 1.6 billion pieces of PPE

A photo of a surgical mask and gloves

When the Canadian government started importing personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies from China for COVID-19, it leaned on air cargo flights — 42 to be exact. But with 1.6 billion pieces still on order, the feds need ships.

“We now intend to resort to maritime considering the volume of PPE that could be shipped,”  Anita Anand, the federal minister of public services and procurement, said during a news conference Tuesday. 

The federal government’s outstanding orders include 1 billion pairs of gloves, 93 million N95 respirator masks, 133 million gowns, 48 million face shields, and 254 million surgical masks, according to government data released on May 19. Most are coming from China.

The surgical masks alone likely would fill about 635 shipping containers, according to Corey Darbyson, director of Montreal intermodal trucking company Transport DSquare.

“That’s the equivalent of a very good customer,” Darbyson told FreightWaves.

The federal government is continuing to import more personal protective equipment as domestic production gets online. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that General Motors will make 10 million N95 masks at its plant in Oshawa, Ontario.

Canada along with other countries have struggled to secure personal protective equipment and other medical supplies from international markets during the pandemic. Anand underscored that “international supply chains are stretched” to meet demand.

Darbyson said the additional volumes from the government orders would help make up for some of the slowdowns in other lanes, particularly in retail.

“It’s sort of replacing that void,” he said.