Coronavirus: ministers blew £150m on unusable masks from British banker

Wrong kind of strap blamed for costly PPE procurement blunder

A paramedic gets help fitting a face mask during the coronavirus pandemic
(Image credit: Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images)

At the peak of Britain’s coronavirus outbreak, the UK government spent £150m on 43.5 million unusable face masks delivered by a little-known investment company.

Officials have admitted that the masks, which had elastic ear-loops rather than straps which fasten behind the head, “did not meet standards and could not be used in the NHS”, The Times reports.

They were made in China and imported by Ayanda Capital in a deal “brokered by a government adviser who also advises the company’s board”, the paper adds.

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Run by former investment banker Tim Horlick, Ayanda describes itself as an investment firm specialising in “currency trading, offshore property, private equity and trade financing”.

“In the early weeks of the pandemic the NHS experienced severe shortages of personal protective equipment [PPE],” the BBC reports. “The government says it had to find new suppliers quickly to meet demand and to compete with rising global competition.”

A month ago, the Financial Times said the government was “facing mounting scrutiny over contracts totalling £5.5bn for personal protective equipment awarded to a range of companies in the first months of the coronavirus crisis as it scrambled to tackle a shortage of kit”.

The Ayanda contract was mentioned as a cause for concern, both because of its size and the company’s apparent inexperience in medical procurement. At the time, Ayanda told the FT it was “happy to confirm that the contract has been successfully fulfilled”.

The eventual fate of the masks is “not clear”, says the BBC.

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Holden Frith is The Week’s digital director. He also makes regular appearances on “The Week Unwrapped”, speaking about subjects as diverse as vaccine development and bionic bomb-sniffing locusts. He joined The Week in 2013, spending five years editing the magazine’s website. Before that, he was deputy digital editor at The Sunday Times. He has also been’s technology editor and the launch editor of Wired magazine’s UK website. Holden has worked in journalism for nearly two decades, having started his professional career while completing an English literature degree at Cambridge University. He followed that with a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University in Chicago. A keen photographer, he also writes travel features whenever he gets the chance.