The first Aer Lingus flight bringing €28 million ($31 million) worth of vital personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical staff in the fight against COVID-19 landed in Dublin on Sunday.
The Aer Lingus flight landed at about 4 p.m. EST on Sunday afternoon. The Irish airline will fly 10 of its Airbus A330s, its biggest plane, to China by Wednesday to secure the vital equipment.
Aer Lingus will bring over €200 million ($223 million) worth of PPE on up to 60 flights in the coming weeks., including surgical masks, gowns and eye shields for health care workers.
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
Aer Lingus will additionally bring almost 100,000 coronavirus testing kits every week.
In total, the airline is flying roughly 13 years worth of protective equipment from China after the HSE agreed to a €225 million($251 million) deal with the Chinese government.
The first flight left Dublin on Saturday afternoon and touched down in Beijing early Sunday morning. The flight landed this afternoon and the HSE will begin distributing the protective equipment to hospitals around the country tonight.
Huge thanks to the @AerLingus pilots of #E19019. They were under quarantine in Beijing so couldn’t disembark. Now flying over Russia on way to Dublin with cargo of PPE valued at €28m. The first batch of several. ETA 3.06pm.👍@ChinaEmbIreland @IrishTimes @HSELive pic.twitter.com/5GLQSnfWXL— Peter Goff (@GoffPeter) March 29, 2020
The HSE said that stocks of protective equipment were running low in hospitals around the country and calls on hospitals to "preserve" equipment were necessary until stocks are replenished.
HSE Chief Operating Officer Dr. Colm Henry called on healthcare workers to conserve PPE by reducing their risk of exposure to COVID-19 and not using PPE when they can avoid exposure.
The HSE invested about €30 million ($33.5 million) in protective equipment on February 1 but that stock is beginning to run out.
In an average year, the HSE spends about €15 million ($16.75 million) on PPE.
Around 90 Aer Lingus pilots secured Chinese visas to complete the voyages and the Chinese Embassy has waived the visa fees and is trying to secure landing spots for every plane.
First @AerLingus cargo flight for PPE scheduled to leave Dublin on Sat morning, arrive in Beijing early Sun, land at Dublin airport late Sunday.
Sail safe! We have got your back.🇮🇪🇨🇳March 27, 2020
The pilots are not allowed to leave the plane when they touch down in China or they will be forced into quarantine.
No cabin crew will travel on the flights.