There are fears among those importing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that China could be readying to halt exports.
Since the start of the month, China has put strict rules in place around the export of PPE, and New Zealand businesses are finding it much tougher to get their hands on stock.
They fear China may enforce even tougher restrictions, and say New Zealand has no Plan B if that were to happen.
From 1 April, Chinese authorities created stricter rules around the manufacture of PPE, and strict requirements on how the products are exported.
It means businesses in New Zealand need to get special, new licences to obtain PPE.
But it goes beyond that, with those on the ground in China having to go to extraordinary lengths to source the protective equipment.
One industry leader said his staff were fortunate to have good working relationships with the managers of PPE factories.
They drive Toyota Hiace vans and park outside a factory, before calling the manager to say they are ready to pick up their stock.
Pallets of PPE are then dropped outside the door of the factory, and the driver loads the van before transporting it to a distribution centre.
The man said it is like the wild west.
Despite all their efforts to obtain and bring PPE to New Zealand, they said they are failing to keep up with demand.
He said they are taking it day by day in trying to obtain stock.
“It’s causing us a massive headache with these supply chain issues,” the man said.
“We’re lucky we have feet on the ground there, but it’s getting harder and harder to get anything.
“It feels like [China] will turn off the tap soon, and we have no Plan B.”
Charter flights are off because of the demand from other, larger nations clogging up Chinese airports, so importers are trying to find space on other aircraft.
RNZ put the issues to the Ministry of Health, and asked what its plan was if the supply of PPE from China was halted.
In a statement, a spokesperson said: “Our approach to PPE is to build a larger national reserve stock whilst also meeting existing demand. This means that we have additional stock to access if needed.
“Our plan, if the ability to import PPE is restricted, is to first access our national reserve stock where necessary.
“We have established a team to look at PPE production in New Zealand as a contingency, and will be able to share more details on that with you soon.”
QSi in Whanganui is already producing masks for use in New Zealand, with capacity to make about 100,000 a day, including about 60,000 of the N95 masks.
But production of PPE in New Zealand is otherwise slim.
On Wednesday, the Canterbury District Health Board on behalf of the Ministry of Health and other national bodies, put out a tender seeking potential suppliers of PPE.
It sought “interested parties who have stock, or are able to obtain stock”, and was seeking, in particular, wipes, gloves, pump spray bottles and detergent liquids.
It was also seeking surgical and procedure masks, gowns, and other PPE.
The Ministry of Health recently said it had more than 18 million masks in stock, and was seeking to add to that in recent weeks.
RNZ asked how long the Ministry’s PPE stocks would last if imports were halted, but had no reply.
Meanwhile, the Ministry on Tuesday launched a new national pipeline for the distribution of PPE.
DHBs will start ordering PPE from the Ministry itself, having taken stock of requests from local medical providers and carers.
The stock will then be sent out to the DHBs after being reviewed by the Ministry.
The Ministry is also managing the stock for essential workers outside the health sector, and is working with the MBIE on that distribution network.
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