A friendship shipment of face masks and goggles from Sunderland's Chinese partner city Harbin is now being prepared for distribution.

As COVID was hitting the UK in April, Sunderland City Council received an offer of face masks from the Mayor of Harbin in northern China.

Altogether 10,000 masks and 400 pairs of goggles are now in the city and being prepared for distribution. International logistics company Vantec, who have a major presence in Sunderland, helped with the shipping and air freight arrangements.

The disposable non-surgical masks and goggles are suitable for day-to-day indoor or outdoor work, or wearing on public transport. They can also be distributed to the city's network of volunteer groups and community hubs who continue to support hundreds of people.

Sunderland and Harbin have had a Friendship Agreement since 2009 which has fostered, promoted and grown a range of links between the two cities. The links have included not only education and business contacts, but also a new health partnership with City Hospitals and public health colleagues which was developed last year.

The Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) offer was made by Mr Sun Zhe, Harbin's Mayor, and was accepted by Leader of Sunderland City Council, Councillor Graeme Miller.

Cllr Miller said: "COVID-19 has not gone away and we will find a very positive use for this generous donation from our friends in Harbin.

"It's a testament to the bonds and strengths that we have with Harbin that this offer was made. It shows our ties are strong and how, in times of international and national crisis, friendships and helping hands can stretch across continents and across the world.

"We are also incredibly grateful to Vantec who have drawn on their well-recognised expertise to handle the global logistics challenge for us.

"On behalf of the residents of Sunderland, thank you to Harbin and to Vantec."

The PPE was part of an airfreight consignment that arrived in the UK this week and was safely delivered to Vantec Europe Limited's facility at Hillthorn Business Park in Washington, Sunderland.

Vantec's specialized knowledge in global logistics, from export and import controls to travel and transportation, all helped see the PPE arrive safely.

Martin Kendall, Managing Director Vantec Europe Limited, said: "We were very happy to help. Moving and shipping manufactured goods is what we specialize in and we have worked with the City Council's Business Investment Team on getting the PPE here safely.

"It's a nice gesture from China and the masks and goggles will, I am sure, be appreciated by many.

"As non-surgical equipment, they are very similar to what many workers up and down the country have already been using in factories and workplaces across the UK."

The PPE was manufactured in China at the Harbin Pharmaceutical Factory. Other European countries, such as France and Germany have imported and used masks manufactured in Harbin.

Mr Sun Zhe, Mayor of Harbin said: "We were delighted to be able to offer this donation to our friends in Sunderland as we all do our very best to fight this global pandemic."