Private companies join war effort to produce essential supplies

The government has enlisted the help of private industry to meet  growing demand for hand sanitiser, masks, and ventilators.

The government has enlisted the help of private industry to meet growing demand for hand sanitiser, masks, and ventilators. Photo: Getty

Four major companies have answered the government’s plea to produce more ventilators – and plenty more have offered a helping hand.

Health Minister Greg Hunt told Today that GE, Philips, Medtronic and ResMed had all indicated they were willing to increase production of the essential medical devices – applications that the Department of Industry, Science and Technology are reviewing.

The announcement came after US President Donald Trump invoked war-time powers to direct American manufacturers to produce certain goods in the name of national security.

The Australian government says it has enough ventilators over the short and medium term, but is working hard to ensure Australia is able to meet the expected increase in demand as the virus continues to spread.

It has also taken steps to boost the supply of face masks, hand sanitiser, surgical gowns, gloves, goggles, and other types of personal protective equipment (PPE) – and placed an order for another 1.5 million coronavirus test kits, according to the AFR.

The Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources last week issued an industry callout to find out which essential supplies local factories could manufacture.

It received responses from more than 100 private companies and has since put out another tender for the production of medical swabs suitable for the collection of COVID-19 samples.

Already, Med-Con in Shepparton, Victoria has ramped up its production of face masks to meet the unprecedented demand.

The company’s chief executive Steven Csiszar told Shepparton News it was on track to meet the government’s order of 30 million surgical masks by November after switching to a 24-hour production cycle.

The company employed just 13 workers before the beginning of the pandemic but now has plans to take on an extra 40, with members of the Australian Defence Force temporarily drafted in to help scale up the company’s production during its search for permanent staff.

The New Daily can confirm that several manufacturers are also working with the government to switch their focus to the production of face masks.

And industry is ramping up its production of hand sanitiser and medical-grade ethanol.

Australia’s leading ethanol producer Manildra Group has said it is working “around the clock to meet demand”.

Western Australian brewing companies Spinifex Brewing Co and Limestone Coast Brewing have switched to producing World Health Organisation-grade hand sanitiser using 80 per cent ethanol.

And Ego Pharmaceuticals, which produces Aqium hand sanitiser, is now running its Melbourne factory 24 hours a day, five days a week.

In February, it made five times what it forecast.

“We’re currently hiring to increase that to six days a week and we’ve stopped our little bit of exporting to prioritise Australian needs,” managing director Alan Oppenheim said in a statement.

Industry Minister Karen Andrews said Australia had enough raw materials to meet the increased demand for hand sanitiser and other personal hygiene products.

But she urged Australians not to complicate matters by unnecessarily hoarding.

She said Australia has enough supplies so long as people do not buy more than they need.

“Our government will continue to do what it takes to ensure supply and increase domestic production of medical protection equipment – from sanitiser to masks to ventilators,” Ms Andrews said in a statement.

“We also need the community to play their part by not stockpiling.

“There is no need for people to have huge volumes of hand sanitiser at home.”

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