The Manitoba government spent $1.2 million on locally-made hand sanitizer that Health Canada says should have never been sold.
The Manitoba Liberals flagged the government’s purchase Monday, after finding it on the province’s contract disclosure website. The contract was dated in mid-April.
Health Canada announced late last week it was recalling the hand sanitizer manufactured by 204 Spirits Inc., a Manitoba vodka and gin distillery, because it was using unauthorized, technical-grade ethanol.
It is not authorized for sale in Canada, Health Canada said in its notice.
A Shared Health spokesperson said each recipient of the hand sanitizer, known as 204 Hand Sanitizer, is being told to store the product. It will be discarded at a later date.
Shared Health wouldn’t say how much of the product has already been used, or which government agencies received it. The product was used in a variety of hand sanitizing applications, the spokesperson said.
Concern over ‘fly-by-night operations’
Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the government should have been more careful before spending six figures on a solution that wasn’t up to snuff.
“I recognize that there was a scramble [early in the pandemic], but the other thing is that even at that time there were news stories about, and concerns, about sort of fly-by-night operations setting up.”
“If you’re buying $1.2 million dollars worth of medical-grade hand sanitizer, it better be medical-grade hand sanitizer, and it wasn’t.”
According to Health Canada guidelines, 204 Spirits Inc. was required to specify where it got its “technical-grade” ethanol from, since the product was a lower grade of ethanol with more impurities than pharmaceutical or food-grade ethanol, but it did not. The company was supposed to procure ethanol from an authorized manufacturer endorsed by Health Canada.
As well, each bottle was supposed to have labels demonstrating the product should only be used by adults and kept away from broken skin, but these warnings weren’t included.
“These are pretty basic things,” Lamont said.
The party leader said the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t an excuse for inadequate inspections.
“In these extraordinary times, it requires extraordinary oversight — and the same applies to due diligence,” Lamont said. “There are lots of people who are going to try to profit off this crisis, and governments need to be vigilant about it.”
Health Canada is urging people to stop using the product and to contact a health-care professional if they have health concerns.
The product was made by a distillery in the rural municipality of Springfield. The company transitioned to making hand sanitizer early in the pandemic while governments and businesses were stocking up.
The company’s Instagram page previously said their hand sanitizer was sold at Sobeys and Safeway retailers across Winnipeg. The distillery deleted all references to the product on Monday afternoon.
‘A better stockpile now’
Health Minister Cameron Friesen said Monday this recall doesn’t distract from the good job the government did in procuring personal protective equipment.
“Certainly there was no one criticizing the effort to bring into jurisdiction, masks and gowns and sanitizing sprays that we would need in our system. We have a better stockpile now than we did three months ago,” he said at the COVID-19 briefing.
“If there’s something that needs to go offline, I can tell you we have very careful inventory controls and that they’ll be pulling off of shelves anything that is deemed to be unfit for use.”
A government spokesperson said the product was ordered and delivered to Shared Health before the government became involved in procuring personal protective equipment during the pandemic.
Shared Health said it has sufficient inventory to replace the recalled hand sanitizer.
A request for comment from 204 Spirits Inc. was not returned.
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