Travellers rush airports from COVID-19 hotspots
Travellers are continuing to pour into Australia from COVID-19 hotspots such as Italy, Spain and China despite new self-isolation requirements — to the point where a major airline increased capacity to meet demand.
Qatar Airways announced on Thursday it would change the aircraft on its Doha-Perth services to an A380, capable of carrying 517 people, 163 more than the Boeing 777s currently used. Doha is the gateway to Europe.
Qantas also reported “full flights” into the country, days before the airline suspends all international services.
Scenes from Sydney Airport showed large numbers of arrivals queuing for health assessments before being cleared to enter the country. The packed terminal raised concerns that social distancing was not being practised, with reports of 300 to 400 people jammed into one room.
A Sydney Airport spokesman said the queues were the result of individual assessments being carried out on every arrival by NSW Health.
He said every effort was being made to remind people of their obligations to self-isolate for 14 days, with the help of more than 100 digital signs throughout the terminal.
In Melbourne, more than 2000 people arrived on 26 flights from overseas, most of whom were Australian nationals desperate to return before borders were closed completely.
Airlines continuing to provide services to Australia include China Southern, China Eastern, United,
Ford Australia could join the ranks of local manufacturers swinging their production lines to make hospital ventilators in large numbers and meet a shortage exposed by the coronavirus, as doctors prepare for a deluge of seriously ill patients who will need breathing-assistance machines to keep them alive.
Industry Minister Karen Andrews confirmed the federal government had entered discussions with Ford, as well as sleep technology company Resmed and others, in an attempt to ensure that enough supplies of ventilators were on hand in intensive care units to cope with the worsening COVID-19 pandemic.
The discussions were revealed on Thursday as the NSW government conceded an internal audit of equipment had found Australia’s most-populous state, which has also suffered the biggest surge in the spread of the virus, had only 500 machines available in stock at public and private hospitals.
The state’s total is fewer than previously estimated by the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society, which had believed that NSW accounted for almost half of the nation’s 2000 ventilators located in intensive care units around the country.
Until now, NSW health authorities had been coy about the number of ventilators in stock.
NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said the state may need to “quadruple” the number of available ventilators to cope with demand. Dr Chant said ICUs had already doubled their capacity in expectation of a big rise in coronavirus hospital admissions, and a further expansion of ventilator supplies was needed, according to emergency plan modelling.
“It’s pleasing to see that we are working in partnership with the commonwealth to explore a range of options with industry about accessing additional ventilators,” she said.
The federal government is understood to have an agreement with Resmed, which produces breathing machines for people with sleep apnoea, to produce 1000 “invasive” ventilators for hospital ICUs. The company is also expected to supply noninvasive machines.
A Resmed spokesman confirmed the company was involved with the government in meeting ventilator demand, but did not comment further.
Other companies that have indicated willingness to participate in swinging their manufacturing lines to ventilators include Philips, GE and Holden Special Vehicles, an offshoot of the nowclosed GM Holden in Australia.
Holden Special Vehicles has indicated it will be able to manufacture hospital ventilators using the 3-D printers it uses to make prototype parts for cars from highstrength plastic.
Ryan Walkinshaw, whose company Walkinshaw Automotive Group owns HSV, told CarAdvice website that he had offered to make medical supplies.
“To help emergency departments treat patients affected by COVID-19, we have raised our hand to help both federal and Victorian governments to design, engineer and assemble any emergency medical equipment that can be made with a 3D printer,” Mr Walkinshaw said.