Northern Ireland's Housing Executive is seeking a major £40m contract to supply its staff with key personal protective equipment (PPE) gear "to minimise the risk of transmission of Covid-19", it can be revealed.
It says it's now seeking to establish a framework agreement for the supply and delivery of PPE.
"The supplies are required to minimise the risk of transmission of Covid-19 and to ensure staff are able to provide essential public services," it said.
"Due to the urgency, disruption and current shortages of PPE, adherence to the normal open procedure time limits could result in failure to obtain the required supplies." The four year contract, worth around £40m, has now gone out to tender.
A spokesperson for the Housing Executive told the Belfast Telegraph: "We are currently undertaking a tender exercise for a four year framework to meet the future requirements of PPE for the organisation.
"As part of this procurement exercise the Department for Communities has requested that we undertake the procurement of PPE equipment for our Supporting People partners on an interim basis.
"We will continue to maintain the highest health and safety standards during Covid-19."
It comes as one of the remaining buildings in the King's Hall complex has been reconfigured to store PPE for use by NHS workers. Nugent Hall, adjacent to the main King's Hall building, has been made watertight and refitted with electricity to allow the safe storage of face masks, protective gowns and other essential gear. The building is being made available by Benmore Octopus, which is in the process of developing the site.
Work to prepare the building as an NHS storage facility has been carried out at cost or discounted rates by a number of firms.
As the coronavirus pandemic spread across Northern Ireland, many of our manufacturers stepped up to retool and produce a range of key PPE gear for frontline workers, amid a shortage.
Sportswear giant O'Neills grabbed the headlines towards the start of the crisis - retooling and training staff to produce PPE for nurses and other key workers.
Just a few days in, and more than 40 companies volunteered to assist in providing support to produce various PPE requirements.
The situation also spurred on the creation of the Hero Shield project. It was the brainchild of Adam Murphy, who co-founded Newtownards-based company Shnuggle with his wife Sinead more than a decade ago following the birth of their first child.
And this week, the UK Government said it is to rebuild its stockpile of PPE.
Global shortages of the protective gear frontline staff need to keep them safe left many health and care workers under-equipped while battling Covid-19 during the early stages of the pandemic.
During Tuesday's Downing Street briefing, Matt Hancock said that "significant progress" had been made with PPE.