Australia will more than double vital health resources like masks, ventilators, and test kits to boost the fight against coronavirus.
Health Minister Greg Hunt announced the increases to the medical equipment on Tuesday, as the number of COVID-19 cases in Australia pushed towards 2,000.
Ventilator capacity is at 2,000 but will soon be doubled to 4,000 by better utilising current stock – and will be boosted to 9,000 within weeks.
‘Today work is being done, led by the Chief Scientist Alan Finkel in conjunction with others, which could add an additional 5,000 invasive and non-invasive respiratory and ventilator units to the Australian capacity,’ Mr Hunt said.
A nurse takes a sample for testing at the newly opened COVID-19 drive-thru testing facility at Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre in Adelaide on Tuesday
Mr Hunt said 97,000 new testing kits arrived last week and another 100,000 were on the way, 63,000 of which were the highest-grade PCR tests
Australia’s coronavirus tally could hit 2000 cases by the end of the Tuesday
‘That is still to be finalised, but I want to give you the forward plan.’
Millions of masks will also arrive in Australia soon to keep health workers safe and not transmitting coronavirus to patients or their families.
Mr Hunt said 30 million would arrive within two weeks and another 24 million by the end of April.
A huge increase in testing for coronavirus is also on the horizon after deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly, admitting the testing guidelines would soon change.
Only those people who had arrived from overseas, or been in contact with someone who had a confirmed case, had qualified to get one of the limited amounts of tests.
Mr Hunt said 97,000 new kits arrived last week and another 100,000 were on the way, 63,000 of which were the highest-grade PCR tests.
‘They will allow us to assist with greater testing of health workers themselves to give them confidence, and, where appropriate, patients,’ he said.
Mr Hunt had also ordered 1.5 million ‘point-of-care tests’ which can give an accurate result in as little as 15 minutes and be used by a GP.
The guidelines for testing for COVID-19 will be changed this week to drop the overseas travel component, as the coronavirus spreads
Pictured: People are seen in a long queue outside a Centrelink office in Brisbane
‘As we receive these newly approved – only approved over the weekend and in some cases in the last four hours – what are called point-of-care tests or finger-prick tests, they will be deployed, which will then allow for greater testing of patients within the general practice setting,’ he said.
About 149,000 people in Australia have been tested – 558 tests per 100,000 people – about the same as South Korea and far higher than Britain’s is 117, and the U.S. 22.
However, questions have been raised about whether the right people are being tested since the borders were closed to non-residents on Friday night.
The Health Department said criteria would be changed to better reflect the current situation, but did not specify what the new guidelines would be.
‘As we learn more about the virus, we have continued to review the testing criteria,’ it said on Monday night.
Health Minister Greg Huntsaid ventilator capacity is at 2,000 but will soon be doubled to 4,000 by better utilising current stock – and will be boosted to 9,000 within weeks
A commuter wearing a gas mask uses his mobile device while standing at a train platform after New South Wales
‘In light of our stronger travel restrictions, the focus logically moves to the community with COVID-19 symptoms, on top of returned travellers and close contacts of cases.’
The announcement followed comments on Q&A by deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly, admitting the testing guidelines would soon change.
‘We’ll be removing the traveller component, but we’re working on that at the moment,’ he said, and promised an announcement this week.
Mr Hunt also revealed Scott Morrison will meet with health chiefs today to discuss a plan for increased restrictions on Australians to fight coronavirus.
Australia appears set to move into ‘stage two’ measures this week, but resist calls for a full lockdown as was ordered in Britain and New Zealand overnight.
Mr Hunt deferred questions about what stage two may look like and when it would come in, but said discussions would take place tonight.
‘The general direction obviously is about people spending more time at home [and] obviously keeping distance,’ he said.
Scott Morrison will meet with health chiefs today to discuss a plan for increased restrictions on Australians to fight coronavirus – which could empty streets like this one in the Sydney CBD even more
‘We are developing a staged approach. We recognise and appreciation what has happened in other parts of the world and indeed all of us are learning from each other.
‘But obviously this notion of greater isolation, more time at home, less time out in groups, [is] what we are encouraging.’
After Mr Morrison and the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee met today, the issue would be discussed by the National Cabinet tonight.
Mr Hunt stressed that stage 2 was ‘not the last stage’ and a graduated series of steps to a full lockdown – if required – was being ironed out.
‘We have always indicated as the Prime Minister said and the national cabinet said, this was stage one,’ he said.
Empty tables and chairs are seen after NSW began shutting down non-essential businesses and moving toward harsh penalties to enforce self-isolation as the spread of coronavirus
Joggers get some exercise outside – an activity that would still be allowed under the strictest lockdown so long as they run solo
Gyms across Australia were shut at 12pm on Monday by order of the government’s stage 1 restrictions, forcing this pair to work out in a park in Sydney
Yoga studios were also closed, so that activity was moved to a basketball court in a Sydney park for this trio
‘I think I should be very upfront and honest about that. Right as we speak, those next stages are being designed and the timing and the implementation measures for it are being carefully considered.’
The minister said people concerned about catching or spreading coronavirus didn’t need to wait for restrictions to increase and could isolate themselves now.
‘If you can take steps to spend time at home, do that,’ he said.
What stage 2 might look like is not clear, but it would not be close to the lockdowns about to be enforced in NZ or Britain, or in other European countries.
Daily Mail Australia has been told the government will only push ahead with even more draconian ‘stage two’ restrictions if coronavirus transmissions in the community continue to escalate or Australians fail to ‘socially distance’.
Stage two would almost certainly see the forced closure of ‘non-essential’ businesses and other restrictions, although the Federal government is keeping mum on just what exactly those will be.
Measures would likely include closures of more non-essential businesses, and lower limits for group gatherings – currently at 100 indoor and 500 outdoor.
Some of or all of New Zealand’s level 3 restrictions could be imposed, such as closing libraries, museums, food courts, and, pools.
Face-to-face GP consultations are also banned, but Mr Hunt implied those would still be necessary for many cases.
However, in his speech he announced a massive rollout of telehealth that every Australian would be able to access and encouraged to use.
There are more than 1,900 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia and eight people have died.
A Sydney train station sits abandoned on Tuesday as more people work from home, avoid going out, or simply take less crowded modes of transport
People who did take the trains wore masks to protect themselves from fellow travellers who might be carrying coronavirus
This commuter went all out and wore a ventilator mask and gloves as he waited for his train
Sydney Airport was busy with passengers coming back home or trying to get back to Queensland before the state shuts its borders
A family returns home to Sydney Airport on Tuesday ahead of potential lockdowns
A man sits with his trolley piled high with luggage at Sydney Airport on Tuesday
There were fears airports could close with new restrictions in coming weeks as domestic travel is discouraged, borders are closed, and states impose quarantines on domestic arrivals