Trav­ellers rush air­ports from COVID-19 hotspots

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - ROBYN IRONSIDE OLIVIA CAIS­LEY

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.

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