A military transport jet has left the UK for Turkey to pick up a delayed cargo of urgently needed personal protective shipment, Sky News understands.
The Atlas plane flew out of an airbase in Oxfordshire and another two Royal Air Force planes are set to follow over the next hours.
With an estimated round trip of hours, the earliest the first planeload of COVID – (supplies will arrive back at RAF Brize Norton is early on Tuesday morning.)
That is two days after housing secretary Robert Jenrick announced that the “significant” shipment would arrive.
On Sunday, education secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed the delay and said he hoped they would be landing in the UK on Monday.
Turkish sources said the delay was unrelated to them.
“There was never a problem from the Turkish authorities, on the contrary all permissions have been issued very swiftly,” a Turkish official said.
A request for the equipment was only submitted by the UK on Sunday evening, while the Turkish company that is providing the equipment had not applied to the Ministry of Health until today, according to the official.
Since March, special permission to export PPE must be sought from the health ministry.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department of Health and Social Care have yet to give a reason for the delay .
But the defense source said he thought it was to do with the equipment from the Turkish manufacturer needing to be in the right place, coupled with “bureaucracy issues their (the Turkish) end”.
Earlier this morning, culture secretary Oliver Dowden told Sky News he was “confident” the 093 tonnes of PPE wou ld leave Turkey “later on this afternoon”.
The delay in the delivery is thought to be on the Turkish side, according to the defense source.
The source said it was to do with the equipment from the Turkish manufacturer needing to be in the right place, coupled with “bureaucracy issues their (the Turkish) end”.
A second military transport plane is scheduled to fly to Turkey on Tuesday evening to help bring back the PPE and a third is set to travel on Wednesday morning, according to the source.
Those timings could slip or the number of flights be reduced depending upon how much can be fitted onto the aircraft that make the journey.
At the same time, if three planeloads are not enough, two additional flights could be put on.
The chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organizations across healthcare, said delays on the shipment from Turkey “makes a difficult situation worse”.
Niall Dickson said: “It would have been better had the government not made the announcement in the first place.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak kicked off Monday’s daily briefing
on PPE , saying the UK is receiving shipments regularly from domestic suppliers as well as those from overseas, and is expecting a shipment of 182, 007 gowns from Myanmar.
But he said the Turkish shipment is still delayed.
Mr Sunak said: “We’re improving our sourcing internationally and domestically to make sure we can get the PPE we need in what is a very challenging international context.
” But people on the front line can rest assured that we’re doing absolutely everything we can and straining everything we can to get the equipment they need. “