31 January 2020
A UK representative joins EU member states and commission officials to discuss “the cluster of pneumonia cases associated with novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China”. Four countries indicate a potential need for personal protective equipment (PPE) “in case of an expanding situation in the EU”. They do not include the UK.
EU countries share observations on the state of supplies of PPE in a meeting of officials from member states and the World Health Organization. An official from the UK attends the meeting in Luxembourg.
A meeting of officials, to which the UK was invited, hears an update from the European commission on the joint procurement of PPE. Commission officials call on countries to confirm “their exact needs latest today … to move forward with next steps”. No representative from the UK attends the meeting.
The EU launches its first joint procurement of £1.2m worth of gloves and gowns/overalls. The UK is not one of the 20 member states involved.
The procurement fails due to a lack of suitable suppliers. It is relaunched on 15 March. The UK is still not involved.
The EU launches two more rounds of joint procurement for masks and goggles and ventilators. The UK is not one of the 25 member states involved.
The UK belatedly takes up an invitation to join the joint procurement agreement steering committee, which makes decisions on mass purchases. The UK does not join a procurement for laboratory supplies that is put out to tender on the same day.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, admits there have been “challenges” with the supply of PPE after complaints by doctors and nurses around the country. He drafts in the army to help with distribution.
No 10 says it has not joined EU procurement schemes as the UK is not in the EU and is “making our own efforts”. The government later U-turns to say it failed to receive an email inviting it to be part of the initiative.
Health officials from EU countries convene an audio meeting. Representatives of the member states raise the possibility of further procurements and are asked to inform the commission by the following day about their requirements. The UK has been invited to join the meeting, but no representative takes part.
The government says it has 8,175 ventilators, but turns to British industry to help produce 30,000 in a matter of weeks. The engineering company Dyson reveals plans for an entirely new medical ventilator working to specifications set down by the government.
The death of two surgeons from Covid-19, the first doctors to die from the disease, intensifies the pressure on ministers to accelerate the supply of PPE.
Hancock calls on workers to “treat PPE as the precious resource it is” following weeks of criticism, leading to claims that he is blaming medics for shortages.
Hancock confirms 19 deaths among healthcare workers from coronavirus, a day after it was claimed in the daily Downing Street press conference that it would be inappropriate to provide such information. Priti Patel, the home secretary, offers what critics call a non-apology, saying she is “sorry if people feel there has been a failure to supply sufficient PPE”.
Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, says gaps remain and calls for the government to publicly acknowledge the problem and the reason for it. Dominic Raab, deputising for the prime minister, admits to supply problems, saying there is “a competitive market out there”, but declines to apologise.