Michelle O'Neill has hailed the success of two local companies that have repurposed production and grown from nothing to make six million protective face shields for frontline workers in just six weeks.
Co Londonderry-based Bloc Blinds took just five days to begin production at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak. Now, working alongside food packaging company Huhtamaki, it is employing over 700 people and has the capacity to send out more than one million of the masks every week on a not-for-profit basis.
"This is an excellent project being taken forward by two local companies who have shown just what can be achieved when they work together," the Deputy First Minister said during a visit to the facility at Meadowbank Sports Arena in Magherafelt on Tuesday.
"Not only are they getting PPE out there, they're also employing so many people who have lost their jobs at this time.
"This is such a good news story in the middle of all the sad stories of those who have lost their lives. I'm very proud of the work they're doing."
Bloc Blinds managing director Cormac Diamond said he was delighted at how smoothly the operation had taken off.
"It was very well publicised that there was a shortage of PPE, so the team at Bloc Blinds identified a particular model of mask that was suitable for us to manufacture," he added.
"We kicked off just five days after that initial discussion, with a daily volume of about 10,000 units.
"We didn't have the luxury of planning out a specific business model. We had an availability of resources to deploy to this particular project.
"It was going to be challenging for us to operate within our current facility, so we very quickly identified the council-run Sports Arena here in Magherafelt. We contacted the council and moved in the next morning."
Two weeks after beginning production, the output was ramped up when Bloc Blinds joined forces with local packaging company Huhtamaki.
"To date we've probably done five to six million," said general manager Ciaran Doherty.
"We contacted Bloc Blinds to see if we could help scale the operation up. We were already well into the process of scaling our operation down.
"We don't believe there's anyone else out there supplying anything on this scale."
Nadine O'Neill from Magherafelt is one of the new members of staff. She said the employment had given her a lifeline.
"I'm a hairdresser, so I'm unemployed right now," she added.
"We're all in the same boat here. We have to pay bills.
"Without this, I wouldn't be able to pay for my house food for my son.
"This has been such a lifeline for so many people."
Earlier on Tuesday, Economy Minister Diane Dodds paid a visit to Southern Regional College's Lurgan campus to meet staff who are making PPE for health workers.
Using laser cutting technology, the college team has produced 1,000 face shields in a little over four weeks.
"Over the past few weeks, all six of our further education colleges have stepped up and focused their skills, knowledge, resources and talents on the response to the virus," the minister said.
"I am deeply humbled by their selflessness and sense of public duty."