A flight from China carrying millions of euro of protective equipment for healthcare workers battling coronavirus has landed in Ireland.
The Aer Lingus Airbus A330 touched down at Dublin Airport just before 3pm on Sunday.
It was the first of dozens of flights the Irish carrier will make to bring consignments of personal protective equipment (PPE) from Beijing.
The Irish Government has a struck a deal with Chinese PPE suppliers worth almost 210 million euro.
🇮🇪Amb Eoin OâLeary thanking Mr MU Hong, GM of 🇨🇳 Resources Group as vital Personal Protection Equipment 😷 are crated up for our friends in @AerLingus âï¸ for delivery to front line health service staff 👨🏼ââï¸👩🏻ââï¸all over Ireland pic.twitter.com/6UjjFSMMLS— Irish Foreign Ministry (@dfatirl) March 28, 2020
The first batch of the order, worth 28 million euro, is being transported on 10 Aer Lingus flights, the last of which will fly on Wednesday.
It contains 11 million protective masks, 2.3 million eye protectors, 2.4 million gowns and nine million gloves.
The second batch is anticipated to be ready for collection later in the week, with planes expected to fly back and forth to Beijing on a regular basis until mid summer.
The first crew, which was not allowed to disembark in China, volunteered to take part in the PPE collection mission.
Ireland has increased its normal 15 million euro annual outlay on PPE to 225 million to cope with the demand due to Covid-19.
Paul Reid, CEO of the HSE, outlined the scale-up involved.
“We would normally procure 500,000 masks a year,” he said on Sunday.
“This year, up to the the end of May with our delivery we’re planning to procure over 36 million masks. On eye protections, we normally procure 200,000 a year; we’ll be procuring 24.4 million. On gowns, we will normally procure 100,000 gallons per year; we’re procuring over 24 million this year by May.
“And gloves, we normally procure four million and our plan is to procure 56 million.
“Obviously we’re as anxious as everybody, including our staff, to see every one of those flights come in with that delivery.”
Mr Reid said the first batch had been expected by Irish government officials and deemed to meet World Health Organisation (WHO) standards.
Thank you so much to @AerLingus & crew of E19019 for collecting personal protective equipment for Ireland & flying it back. Huge team work to secure this equipment & to sort logistics. @HSELive will start distributing it tonight. More flights with PPE in coming days #coronavirus— Simon Harris TD (@SimonHarrisTD) March 29, 2020
The Northern Ireland Executive is also securing PPE from China as part of a joint order with the HSE.
The first flight attracted much public attention, with officials from both China and Ireland providing regular Twitter updates on its progress.
Health Minister Simon Harris said: “We are doing everything that is humanly possible to secure as much personal protective equipment as we can.
“I want to thank the crew, I want to thank the airline, I want to thank the HSE, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Chinese authorities – everyone who has worked so hard to get this.
“There is a shortage of personal protective equipment right throughout the world.”
On Sunday, it also emerged that the mayor of the Chinese city of Shenyang, Jiang Youwei, has donated 10,000 medical masks and 500 sets of protective clothing to Belfast.
The gesture was welcomed by Belfast City Mayor Daniel Baker.
“Today we received correspondence from Mayor Jiang Youwei and the Consul General of China in Belfast Zhang Meifang extending solidarity from the people of Shenyang to the people of Belfast and Ireland as we fight back against Covid-19,” he said
“The Mayor of Shenyang has also very kindly made a donation of 10,000 disposable medical masks and 500 sets of protective clothing.
“I will be making arrangements for this equipment to be distributed urgently to our frontline healthcare workers upon arriving in Belfast.”