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UK plans to burn billions in wasted PPE

LONDON (AP) – The British government plans to burn billions of pounds in unusable personal protective equipment (PPE) purchased in haste during the coronavirus pandemic, a public spending watchdog said yesterday.

The idea of burning the facemasks, gowns and other equipment to generate power has not impressed the watchdog committee. The panel is investigating how the government came to spend GBP4 billion (USD5 billion) on protective gear that has to be dumped because it is defective or does not meet United Kingdom (UK) standards.

Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee said the government planned to dispose of 15,000 pallets a month of the gear “via a combination of recycling and burning to generate power”.

“The costs and environmental impact of disposing of the excess and unusable PPE is unclear,” the committee noted.

Chief Executive of the Royal College of Nursing Pat Cullen, a professional body, accused the government of “sending billions of pounds up in smoke”.

Masks and goggles, part of personal protective equipment, used to avoid being infected or transmitting coronavirus, are seen at the Nightingale Hospital North West in Manchester, northern England. PHOTO: AP

In a report, the accounts committee found that the Department of Health lost 75 per cent of the GBP12 billion it spent on PPE in the first year of the pandemic to inflated prices and faulty products. Opposition Labour Party lawmaker Meg Hillier, who chairs the committee, said the PPE saga was “perhaps the most shameful episode in the UK government response to the pandemic”.

“The government splurged huge amounts of money, paying obscenely inflated prices and payments to middlemen in a chaotic rush, during which they chucked out even the most cursory due diligence,” she said.

Government Minister Robin Walker acknowledged yesterday that “mistakes were made” early in the pandemic.

But he said it was “a totally unprecedented situation” in which countries around the world were scrambling to acquire supplies during a health crisis.