Businesses switch to making virus supplies

The government has praised businesses turning their hand to making coronavirus supplies.
The government has praised businesses turning their hand to making coronavirus supplies.

Australian manufacturers have intensified efforts to shore up medical supplies as the federal government tries to save millions of jobs under threat from coronavirus.

Medical equipment company ResMed is making 500 intensive care ventilators and another 5000 non-invasive ones with production expected to finish at the end of April.

Adelaide business Detmold, which usually makes packaging for fast-food giants including McDonald's and KFC, will soon start pumping out surgical masks for frontline health workers.

About 145 million masks will be distributed nationally, with 45 million to stay in South Australia.

Federal Industry Minister Karen Andrews said the company would employ an extra 160 people, describing it as "pivoting at its best".

The minister will sit down with clothing and textile manufacturers later this week to address the need for more surgical and hospital gowns.

Distilleries, wineries and breweries are making hand sanitiser, with the government cutting red tape to feed soaring demand in the healthcare system.

Ms Andrews conceded there were concerns among some general practitioners about accessing masks.

"What we are doing as a government is looking at importing masks where we can, but stepping up the production here in Australia - that's exactly what we're doing," she told ABC News Breakfast.

The federal government will spend $130 billion to provide coronavirus-hit businesses with a $1500 fortnightly wage subsidy for each employee.

It's the biggest stimulus package in Australia's history, taking the government's spending commitments to $320 billion or 16.4 per cent of gross domestic product.

Almost 200,000 businesses registered for the subsidy less than 24 hours after the announcement.

The drastic measure is designed to save six million jobs over the next six months.

There are also efforts to keep essential services going, with truck stops and roadhouses given an exemption from shutdowns.

But the economy remains awash with pain as businesses feel the immense pressure of the disease's spread.

Virgin Australia is asking for a $1.4 billion bailout as part of a wider $5 billion package for ailing airlines, while Qantas wants a $4.2 billion lifeline.

More than 4350 cases of coronavirus have been detected across Australia and 19 people have died.

An elderly man in Tasmania became the latest victim on Tuesday, bringing the state's toll to two deaths in two days.

The daily infection rate has slowed to nine per cent over the past three days, down from a high of 25 to 30 per cent.

Deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth warned against complacency, despite encouraging signs.

"I would urge Australians now is not the time to take the foot off the pedal," he told reporters in Canberra.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said it was not yet time to consider loosening restrictions.

"We are seeing what I would describe as early promising signs of the curve flattening," he said.

"But we've got a long way to go. Let's not get ahead of ourselves."

The federal government has also struck a $1.3 billion deal with 657 private hospitals for integration into the public system to deal with surging demand.

Efforts are under way to double the number of ventilated intensive care beds to 4400 on the way to an overall target of 7500.

The health system has been readied for an influx of coronavirus patients, with 34,000 private hospital beds and more than 100,000 staff covered under the partnership.

People are being told they must stay at home, with work, study, medical appointments or buying food the only exceptions.

Public gatherings have been limited to two people, with people living in the same house excluded.

Australian Associated Press