Plane with PPE from Turkey has landed in UK, minister confirms | Politics

A health minister has confirmed the delayed Turkish shipment of personal protective equipment (PPE) has landed in the UK but struggled to explain why so many offers of gowns, masks and other items from British suppliers have been ignored.

Helen Whately, the care minister, said at least part of the consignment arrived on Wednesday morning on an RAF flight and was being checked, after an unexplained four-day hold up.

It was not clear yet whether the supplies contained the promised 400,000 badly needed gowns, which ministers had promised would arrive on Sunday to fix a shortage.

The plane had been dispatched from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, where two other planes have been on standby to pick up further supplies from Turkey since late on Monday.

In a round of broadcast interviews, Whately failed to explain why offers of PPE sitting in British warehouses were being ignored in many cases, including 16m face masks identified by the Guardian.

She said 3,000 out of 8,000 offers had received a substantive response but the government was prioritising those with bulk supply.

However, she had no answer to why offers of immediate kit sitting in UK stockpiles were not being taken up.

Pressed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she said the main reason was a greater focus on “those who have an established supply chain”, even though the government was grateful for all offers.

Despite pleas from NHS leaders for politicians not to talk about kit that has not yet been delivered, Whately said the government was “expecting millions of face masks coming from China” this week.

The government has come in for mounting criticism over its failure to ensure NHS staff treating coronavirus patients have the protective equipment they need.

Ministers insisted they were pursuing “every possible option” to secure additional kit but said that, with unprecedented worldwide demand, the situation was “very challenging”.

The local government minister Simon Clarke could not give a timescale earlier this week on when the supplies would arrive, saying only it would be in the “next few days”.

Separately, the government said 140,000 gowns had arrived from Myanmar – but with the NHS using 150,000 a day, the demand on resources remains intense.

With fears that staff in hospitals and care homes are risking their lives, the TUC called for an independent inquiry into the government’s handling of the issue to be mounted before the end of the year.

Epidemics of infectious diseases behave in different ways but the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed more than 50 million people is regarded as a key example of a pandemic that occurred in multiple waves, with the latter more severe than the first. It has been replicated – albeit more mildly – in subsequent flu pandemics.

How and why multiple-wave outbreaks occur, and how subsequent waves of infection can be prevented, has become a staple of epidemiological modelling studies and pandemic preparation, which have looked at everything from social behaviour and health policy to vaccination and the buildup of community immunity, also known as herd immunity.

Is there evidence of coronavirus coming back elsewhere?

This is being watched very carefully. Without a vaccine, and with no widespread immunity to the new disease, one alarm is being sounded by the experience of Singapore, which has seen a sudden resurgence in infections despite being lauded for its early handling of the outbreak.

Although Singapore instituted a strong contact tracing system for its general population, the disease re-emerged in cramped dormitory accommodation used by thousands of foreign workers with inadequate hygiene facilities and shared canteens.

Singapore’s experience, although very specific, has demonstrated the ability of the disease to come back strongly in places where people are in close proximity and its ability to exploit any weakness in public health regimes set up to counter it.

What are experts worried about?

Conventional wisdom among scientists suggests second waves of resistant infections occur after the capacity for treatment and isolation becomes exhausted. In this case the concern is that the social and political consensus supporting lockdowns is being overtaken by public frustration and the urgent need to reopen economies.

The threat declines when susceptibility of the population to the disease falls below a certain threshold or when widespread vaccination becomes available.

In general terms the ratio of susceptible and immune individuals in a population at the end of one wave determines the potential magnitude of a subsequent wave. The worry right now is that with a vaccine still months away, and the real rate of infection only being guessed at, populations worldwide remain highly vulnerable to both resurgence and subsequent waves.

Peter Beaumont

Hospitals have sought other ways of obtaining PPE, with the Mid Yorkshire hospitals NHS trust buying 6,000 sets of coveralls due to a very low stock of gowns, although it admitted this was “not ideal”.

Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, has said trusts are being forced into “hand-to-mouth” workarounds, including washing single-use gowns and restricting stocks to key areas.

The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said at the No 10 press briefing on Monday that work was continuing to find more PPE.

He said: “We’re improving our sourcing internationally and domestically to make sure we can get the PPE we need in what is a very challenging international context.

“But people on the frontline can rest assured that we’re doing absolutely everything we can and straining everything we can to get the equipment they need.”

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