The Government is to rebuild its stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE), the Health Secretary has announced.

Global shortages of the protective gear frontline staff need to keep them safe left many health and care workers under-equipped while battling Covid-19 during the early stages of the pandemic.

During Tuesday’s Downing Street briefing, Matt Hancock said that “significant progress” had been made with PPE.

He said that the Government was not only keeping up with demand, but is now in a position to replenish stockpiles.

But he also announced that there are still 98 NHS workers in hospital who have tested positive for coronavirus, including some who are “seriously ill”.

Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the deaths of 181 NHS workers and 131 social care workers have “sadly been reported involving Covid-19”.

Mr Hancock said: “We’ve been working hard to build our supplies of personal protective equipment.

“I know how important this is, especially to colleagues on the front line.

“We all heard in the early weeks of the crisis, the calls from the front line for more and better PPE, and we all saw the global scramble to acquire it.

“I have been completely open about the scale and the difficulties of this challenge, building a new supply chain from scratch, and of course the operational challenge of delivery.

“General Sir Nick Carter, chief of the defence staff, said himself this is the single greatest logistical challenge that he’d faced in his 40 years of service.

“And in response to those challenges, thanks to the Armed Forces and to so many others, including so many in the NHS, we’ve seen a mammoth effort.

“We’ve ramped up domestic production. I can announce that we have now signed contracts to manufacture two billion items of PPE here in the UK.

“Around the world, we’ve signed deals with over 100 new suppliers including agreeing contracts for a further 3.7 billion gloves.

“While we continue to improve the logistics and work hard to get everyone, the PPE that they need these new supplies mean that we’re not simply keeping up with demand, we are now able to begin to replenish our stockpiles.

“There is a lot further to go on PPE, as on so many things, but we have made significant progress, and I’d like to thank everybody involved.

“PPE of course is so important, because it’s about protecting the people who protect us. And we’ll do that for as long as the virus remains on these shores.”

Later in the briefing, Mr Hancock was asked about NHS staff not being properly “fit tested” for PPE.

He said: “I know there was some problems with that at the start, I hope we’ve resolved them now. It was all going from needing normal amounts of PPE to needing very high amounts of PPE.”