Health Service Executive Chief Executive Paul Reid has said that the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) continues to remain challenging during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking at the weekly HSE briefing, Mr Reid said efforts were being made to accelerate further deliveries but stronger controls in China could threaten timing.

He said: "There is a significant issue emerging from China that the provinces, the regional provinces, have put in place stronger controls on the export of PPE – not to stop the exports but to assess and assure the quality of the exports, to make sure that they are up to a quality and standard.

"That has a potential to threaten some of our supply line in terms of times for delivery, but we are working with our contacts through the IDA Ireland, the Irish Ambassador in Beijing, and indeed with the Chinese Ambassador here in Dublin just to continue to make sure we accelerate that."

The HSE CEO urged healthcare workers to be prudent in their use of PPE.

Mr Reid said 33 million items of PPE from a batch one order from China, worth €31 million, had been fully distributed.

He said any product issues relating to that batch have now been fully addressed, and batch two had commenced yesterday.

To accelerate supply of PPE, he said the HSE has asked Chinese suppliers to consolidate more deliveries into batch two.

Batch two, which was originally an order of €67 million, is now set to be a larger order worth €130 million, Mr Reid said.

But he said supplies were like "gold dust", with ''elements of kind of modern-day piracy going on''.

Mr Reid clarified: "In terms of when we secure an order, someone else is coming in and trying to outbid the order that we have secured."

He cautioned that it is going to be like this for a sustainable period of time.

"We continue to urge all healthcare workers to be extremely prudent in the use of PPE and to ensure that is used for the correct purposes," Mr Reid told the media briefing.

Additional supply lines have also been opened with other suppliers to meet demand, the HSE CEO said.

Mr Reid said early last week over a million items of PPE were distributed across 1,250 deliveries.

"Three quarters of a million items of PPE on Friday were delivered," said Mr Reid, who added that nursing homes have been prioritised regarding the distribution of PPE.