Government Inquiry Launched Into PPE Supplier Accused of Forced Labour

The Malaysian-based company Supermax, which was handed a £316 million contract to manufacture nearly 90 million rubber gloves for the NHS at the start of the pandemic, is under Government investigation after concerns that the business uses forced labour at its manufacturing plants. Last month, the U.S. banned Supermax imports after a similar inquiry concluded that modern slavery was involved in the making of rubber gloves. The Guardian has the story.

Officials at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) are investigating Supermax, which won a £316 million contract for 88.5 million rubber gloves as the Covid pandemic began to unfold.

Last month the U.S. forbade the Malaysian company from selling its products there after an inquiry found “ample evidence” that it had used forced labour in the manufacture of its rubber gloves. Customs officers were told to seize any disposable gloves made by Supermax as part of a Government order banning the import into the U.S. of any goods made by forced labour.

The U.K. Government has instigated its own inquiry after Jeremy Purvis, a Liberal Democrat peer, demanded scrutiny of Supermax and action to ensure that products made using modern slavery are not used in Britain.

Rubber glove manufacturers in Malaysia have been accused of forcing employees to work long hours, confiscating staff’s passports, paying them derisory sums and ignoring Covid safety protocols in cramped manufacturing sites. Last year Supermax workers claimed they had to work 30 days in a row without a break and had paid high fees in their home countries to get the jobs. The company denied the allegations.

Speaking in the House of Lords on October 21st, a day after U.S. Customs and Border Protection adopted its tough stance, Lord Purvis asked the BEIS minister Gerry Grimstone: “Will the minister instruct an urgent inquiry to ensure that we are not using these products, which are a result of modern slavery in Malaysia?”

Lord Grimstone replied: “I will ensure that that particular company is looked at by my officials.”

Asked by the Guardian for details of the inquiry, a Government spokesperson said: “We take allegations of this nature very seriously and we are investigating the claims made against Supermax. We have made strong commitments to eradicate modern slavery from all contracts in the government supply chain.”

The Government made clear that the investigation could lead to Supermax being banned from supplying the NHS. “A proper due diligence process is carried out for all government contracts and our suppliers are required to follow the highest legal and ethical standards. If they fail to do so we will remove them from current and future contracts,” the spokesperson said.

More than 25,000 Tonnes of Covid-Related PPE and Plastic Waste has Been Thrown in the Sea

More than 25,000 tonnes of personal protective equipment and other types of Covid-related plastic waste has entered Earth’s oceans, a new study estimates – and 71% of this is due to wash up on beaches by the end of the year. MailOnline has more.

Researchers in California have developed a computer model simulating the fate of plastic waste as it leaves beaches, drifts along the water and fragments into pieces.

They estimate that 8.4 million tons of pandemic-related plastic waste has been generated by 193 countries, from the start of the pandemic to August 2021.

Almost three quarters – 71% – is likely to wash up on beaches by the end of the year, the model suggests.

Most of the offending Covid-related plastic is from medical waste generated by hospitals, the researchers say, which “dwarfs” the contribution from PPE and packaging from online shopping giant like Amazon and eBay.

PPE includes masks, face shields disposable gloves and surgical gowns. The term “Covid-related plastic”, meanwhile, includes PPE and any plastic packaging used to contain these items, as well as plastic from test kits.

All can enter rivers and eventually travel into the world’s oceans if not disposed of properly.

The new study was led by a team of researchers at Nanjing University’s School of Atmospheric Sciences and UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who used data from the start of the pandemic in 2020 through to August 2021.

“Plastic waste causes harm to marine life and has become a major global environmental concern,” they say in their paper.

“The recent COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increased demand for single-use plastic, intensifying pressure on this already out-of-control problem.

“This work shows that more than eight million tons of pandemic-associated plastic waste have been generated globally, with more than 25,000 tons entering the global ocean.

“This poses a long-lasting problem for the ocean environment and is mainly accumulated on beaches and coastal sediments.”

Worth reading in full.

£2.1 Billion Wasted on Useless PPE – Five Times Higher Than Official Estimate

Over the past year, the Government has wasted more than £2 billion on personal protective equipment (PPE) that could not be used in the NHS. The figure is five times higher than initial official estimates and still under-estimates the true cost. The Sunday Telegraph has the story.

Some 2.1 billion items of PPE have so far been deemed unfit to keep doctors and nurses safe in clinical settings – with 10,000 shipping containers-full still to be unpacked as of May this year, said the Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The amount of unusable kit is five times higher than the number estimated by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) in January, said the select committee, which monitors public expenditure.

The wasted sum forms part of the estimated £372 billion spent by the U.K. on pandemic-containing measures which will expose taxpayers to “significant financial risks for decades to come”, the cross-party committee warned in two reports published on Sunday.

MPs say they “remain concerned that despite spending over £10 billion on supplies, the PPE stockpile is not fit for purpose” with potential levels of waste “unacceptably high”.

As of May this year, out of 32 billion items of PPE ordered by the DHSC, 11 billion had been distributed, while 12.6 billion pieces are on standby at a cost of around £6.7 million a week in storage, the PAC said.

Some 8.4 billion pieces on order from around the globe have still not arrived in the U.K.

For excess PPE that is suitable for medical use, MPs said they are concerned the Government is “yet to create any robust plans for repurposing and distributing this essential stock in a way which ensures value for money and protects staff and patients”.

A public inquiry scheduled to start next spring into the Government’s handling of the pandemic will not come swiftly enough to ensure lessons are learned, the PAC added.

Ministers also risk undermining public trust by failing to swiftly publish the full details of contracts awarded, the report said.

The PAC noted that details of three-quarters of the 1,644 contracts over £25,000 awarded up to the end of July last year were not made public within the 90-day target.

Worth reading in full.

“Totally F***ing Hopeless” – Boris Johnson’s Verdict on Matt Hancock

Dominic Cummings has published a trove of confidential material on his Twitter and Substack accounts today, including a WhatsApp exchange between him and the Prime Minister in which Boris describes the Health Secretary as “Totally f***ing hopeless”. MailOnline has more.

In an exchange from March 27th last year Mr Cummings criticised the Health Secretary over the failure to ramp up testing. Mr Johnson replied: “Totally f***ing hopeless.” He then tried to call his senior aide three times without managing to get through.

Another from the same day saw Mr Cummings complain that the Department of Health had been turning down ventilators because “the price has been marked up”. Mr Johnson said: “It’s Hancock. He has been hopeless.”

On April 27, Mr Johnson apparently messaged Mr Cummings to say that PPE was a “disaster”, suggesting that Michael Gove should take charge instead.

“I can’t think of anything except taking Hancock off and putting Gove on.”

Mr Cummings dropped the incendiary revelations in a lengthy post on the Substack blogging platform just minutes before PMQs.

It included vicious passages condemning Mr Johnson for “telling rambling stories and jokes” instead of chairing crucial meetings properly, and a claim that the PM is intending to quit in order to “make money” rather than serving a full term if he wins the next election.

Worth reading in full.

Hospital Covid Outbreaks Caused in Part by Wrong Staff Getting PPE

Covid outbreaks in hospitals have been caused in part by the wrong staff receiving full personal protective equipment (PPE), a new study suggests. Official guidelines have dictated that the best PPE should be given to doctors and nurses treating patients who require medical oxygen, but new research shows that less severely ill patients are more likely to infect people around them. The Telegraph has the story.

An international team of researchers has established that less severely ill patients are far more likely to infect people around them than those critical enough to require oxygen.

The findings appear to contradict official guidelines, which ration the best PPE to doctors and nurses treating patients who require medical oxygen, on the basis that doing so requires the performance of “aerosol-generating procedures”.

Often working in intensive care units, these staff are given eye protection, a tight fitting particle respirator mask, long-sleeved fluid-repellent gowns and gloves.

Those working with less ill Covid patients had to go without eye protection, were given only a standard surgical mask, as well as a disposable apron and gloves.

However, the new findings show that the typical activities of less severely ill Covid patients – breathing, talking, shouting, coughing and exercising – actually generated 100 times more aerosol particles than those receiving oxygen.

The study found that oxygen therapies – officially considered the most high-risk for infection – actually reduced the amount of aerosols.

It was carried out after figures emerged showing that staff working on wards who wear only standard surgical masks have around two to three times higher rates of infection than those working in ICU.

One of the study’s co-authors, Professor Euan Tovey, said that less severely ill Covid patients – who have been treated by doctors and nurses with less effective PPE – posed a great risk.

The coughing and laboured breathing common in patients with Covid produces a lot more droplets and aerosols than is produced by patients being treated with oxygen therapies.

Surgical facemasks provide inadequate protection against aerosols and staff safety can only be increased by more widespread use of specialised tight-fitting respirators – N95 or FFP3 masks – and increased indoor ventilation.

Also, as the respiratory therapies did not significantly increase aerosols, these treatments should be made widely available to patients with Covid who need them.

Another researcher, Professor Tim Cook, suggested that these findings warrant a change in policy regarding the rationing of PPE.

Our findings strongly support the re-evaluation of guidelines to better protect hospital staff, patients and all those on the front line who are dealing with people who have, or are suspected of having, Covid.

Worth reading in full.

The Failure of the Political Class

We’re publishing a fantastic original essay today by James Moreton Wakeley, a former Parliamentary researcher with a PhD in History from Oxford. For him, the Government’s response to the Coronavirus crisis is an indictment of the entire political class and, in particularly, its prioritising of rhetoric, grand narratives and media management over coming up with evidence-based solutions to practical problems. Here’s an extract:

The uniformity of the new ruling class, and the games that one must play to enter it, explains the consensus on lockdown. The political class is naturally drawn to power, meaning that its members are often keen to signal how ‘on board’ they are with elite projects. This distorts the line between those responsible for policy and those who should critique it. It is evident in the tendency of mainstream journalists to discuss the pandemic within the framework set by lockdown rather than to think outside of the box, or in their total failure to ask probing questions of ministers and state scientists. They can further tell one another that they are being ‘responsible’ by refusing to question a Government policy designed, of course, to ‘save lives,’ but this means that they partake in the state’s management of society rather than in holding power to account. Many journalists will also avoid criticising lockdown because a lot of those who do are political class undesirables, notably Donald Trump, with whom they do not want to appear associated. It often appears to be a political class article of faith that frequently unreasonable people cannot, in fact, say reasonable things.

It is, moreover, hardly irrelevant to note that lockdown is also more congenial to the political class than to most people in the country. They have secure, well-paid, often interesting and usually public-sector jobs that generally just require a computer and an internet connection. They are also less likely to know personally the kind of people working in private sector service or physical jobs who have suffered the most from the societal shutdown. Home-schooling is similarly less of a problem for those with the financial means or educational attainments to tutor effectively. Lockdown can mean leisurely late breakfasts and bicycle rides.

This one is very definitely worth reading in full.