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6 Aug, 2020 14:30

UK govt under fire for buying 50 MILLION unusable masks from ‘investment firm’ with no history of supplying protective gear

UK govt under fire for buying 50 MILLION unusable masks from ‘investment firm’ with no history of supplying protective gear

The UK government has determined that 50 million face masks it bought are not safe for NHS staff to use, a new lawsuit reveals. Court documents allege that the gear was purchased from a firm with no experience in dealing with PPE.

The Chinese-made FFP2 respirator masks were procured by the UK government from a London-based firm named Ayanda Capital as part of a £252-million ($331.5mn) contract signed in late April. However, the protective gear, intended for NHS staff, will now not be used because it had ear straps, rather than head straps, which means the masks may not fit tight enough around the face, UK media reported, citing court documents.

The Good Law Project, an NGO requesting a judicial review of the mask procurement process, argues that Ayanda Capital “has never before engaged in the business of sourcing or supplying PPE.” A report by the Times described the company as “obscure.” Ayanda’s own website says it focuses on currency trading, asset management, private equity and trade financing.

According to the documents cited by the media, the British government said that the deal with Ayanda was suggested by businessman Andrew Mills, an adviser to the UK Board of Trade and simultaneously a Senior Board Adviser to Ayanda.

Mills told the BBC that his position with the firm had played no part in awarding the contract. Ayanda insisted that its masks went through “a rigorous assurance program” and met all the requirements available online on the government’s portal. It also said that officials did not reject the supplied gear.

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The government, for its part, said that there is “a robust process in place to ensure orders are of high quality and meet strict safety standards, with the necessary due diligence undertaken on all government contracts.”

Meanwhile, 150 million masks of another type supplied by Ayanda are currently being tested.

The case casts a shadow on a Tory government already facing harsh criticism from the opposition for its handling of the Covid-19 outbreak. Last month, the Labour Party requested the National Audit Office probe the mask procurement. On Thursday, Labour MP Rachel Reeves tweeted that “the latest PPE scandal cannot be swept under the carpet,” and “these mistakes can never happen again.”

The UK government has been struggling to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus in recent weeks, and last week Prime Minister Boris Johnson postponed the next planned stage of easing the lockdown.

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