Coronavirus: British foreign secretary thanks UAE for PPE shipment

Turkish shipment failures is latest blow to UK, which has highest Covid-19 deaths in Europe

Clinical staff wear personal protective equipment (PPE) while caring for a patient in the Bronchoscopy unit at the Royal Papworth Hospital, operated by the Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, in Cambridge, U.K., on Tuesday, May 5, 2020. The U.K.'s coronavirus death toll soared passed that of Italy, making it the worst hit country in Europe, as a top British official expressed regret over the lack of testing in the early stages of the outbreak. Photographer: Neil Hall/EPA/Bloomberg
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British medical officials said they were receiving coronavirus protective equipment “just in time” as the Foreign Secretary thanked Dubai on Thursday for sending urgently needed supplies.

With more than 32,000 deaths, the UK is suffering the largest toll in Europe and high demand from National Health Service staff for personal protective equipment to treat patients.

The British government’s lack of preparation for the pandemic, despite early warnings from China and southern Europe, is coming under intense scrutiny.

There was further embarrassment when 400,000 medical gowns from Turkey were shown to be inadequate and unusable.

The government initially welcomed Turkey’s offer and sent over Royal Air Force cargo planes to pick up the 40-tonne load last month.

It was reported on Thursday that the gowns failed to meet safety standards.

Meanwhile, Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, praised the UAE and other countries for supplying 60 tonnes of personal protection equipment that arrived six days ago.

Mr Raab called it a “generous donation of PPE for the fight against Covid-19".

"The UAE are true friends and valued partners, and we will continue to work together to tackle this global pandemic," he wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, sent the flight carrying masks, gowns and other equipment as a sign of the “strong historical relations between the UAE and the UK”.

The British government has struggled to find enough protective equipment for frontline medics, including masks and gowns that must be changed frequently.

"We are getting it just in time but the burn rate of kit is just huge," a senior medical planner told The National.

“On an average 12-hour shift, people are getting through up to eight surgical masks and three FFP3 high-protection masks.

"We currently have just about enough for the current crisis but if there’s another spike in infections we will have problems.”

The government was “working through” a list of about 10,000 UK-based companies that have offered to make PPE, and received 250,000 gowns from Northern Ireland, Cabinet minister Brandon Lewis told BBC News on Thursday.

But the failure to properly plan for the crisis has been widely criticised.

“The chances of a pandemic was very high on the government’s risk register,” said Dr Ilan Kelman, professor of disasters and health at University College London.

“From China to Italy and Spain, the government had ample warning of what was coming but made a very clear decision not to prepare properly and protect health workers.

“It is encouraging that a lot of countries like the UAE are willing to provide equipment, but we will also need long-term plans as the NHS will require PPE for the foreseeable future.”

The Department of Health and Social Care said there were shortages of PPE around the world, not just Britain.

“We are working night and day to source PPE internationally and domestically, and brought together the NHS, industry and the armed forces to create a comprehensive PPE distribution network to deliver critical supplies to the frontline,” a representative said.

Medical workers, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), prepare for a test at a drive-through coronavirus test center at the Royal Papworth Hospital, operated by the Royal Papworth Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, in Cambridge, U.K., on Tuesday, May 5, 2020. The U.K.'s coronavirus death toll soared passed that of Italy, making it the worst hit country in Europe, as a top British official expressed regret over the lack of testing in the early stages of the outbreak. Photographer: Neil Hall/EPA/Bloomberg
Medical workers prepare to test motorists at a drive-through coronavirus centre in Cambridge. Neil Hall / EPA / Bloomberg