Army’s mission to find 54m masks to fight coronavirus
The army may be called in to collect 54 million masks from overseas to protect Australian medical and aged care workers from the coronavirus.
Fearing traditional supply routes will close, the federal government has ordered the military to be part of the mission to obtain surgical masks and P2 and N95 respirators from around the world to boost the national medical stockpile.
Speaking exclusively to The Sunday Telegraph, Health Minister Greg Hunt said the army was "on standby and ready to go".
"The government has been working closely with the medical profession, who have highlighted the importance of securing additional personal protective equipment to support the response to the global COVID-19 outbreak," Mr Hunt said.
"While most hospitals have up to six months' supply, some dentists and doctors have struggled a bit to secure masks.
"Where there is a shortfall we will supply masks to protect our frontline workers."
The Sunday Telegraph understands the government was able to secure 54 million from five continents within a week of tasking a team at the national incident centre.
The updated supply will include more than 40 million surgical masks and 12 million P2 respirators.
The government has already flagged deputising military personnel as biosecurity officers in the event of a pandemic outbreak.
A massive breakout of the virus would trigger the Biosecurity Act, which would see soldiers potentially guarding medical stocks, designated medical screening stations and even enforcing quarantine measures.
Attorney-General Christian Porter warned that, in this case "it's very likely that Australians will encounter practices and instructions and circumstances that they've not had to encounter before".
It comes as senior economic ministers will meet today to finalise a stimulus package to try to protect the economy from coronavirus.
Pensioners will be asked to spend Australia out of recession with the government reducing deeming rates for the second time in less than a year. The deeming rate is the amount the government estimates part pensioners earn from their financial assets and is used to assess eligibility for government assistance.
Government sources said 537 councils could also be in line for government cash to fund small shovel-ready projects such as maintenance jobs to stimulate the economy.
Small and medium businesses that can prove they have been hurt by the coronavirus may also be given extra time to lodge activity statements and payments similar to tax reprieves offered to bushfire-affected communities.
The economic stimulus package is also expected to include wage subsidies, payments for small businesses and could see the instant asset write-off expanded so companies can claim a tax refund after spending money.
Cabinet is expected to tick off on the stimulus package on Tuesday.
Yesterday Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Paul Kelly said there were 70 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia and two people have died from the illness.
He said 260,000 masks were distributed to primary medical networks yesterday.
The new supply of 54 million masks are expected to arrive in Australia by the end of April ahead of winter.
It comes as Labor called on the Coalition to follow the British government in offering sick leave payments to casual workers forced to self-isolate because of coronavirus.