Healthcare workers welcome confirmation of additional face masks

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Australian healthcare professionals have welcomed the federal government's announcement it "quietly" acquired 54 million additional face masks during the past week.

Health minister confirmed the outcome at a press conference on Sunday, saying it includes surgical masks, P2 and N95 respirators that will be added to the National Medical Stockpile for use by medical, dental and aged care professionals.

The Australian Dental Association welcomed the announcement, saying Australia's 7,500 dental practices use approximately 9.5 million masks every month.

“This is great news for the dental profession,” said ADA President Dr Carmelo Bonanno, who joined Minister Hunt for Sunday's announcement.

“Since the coronavirus reduced the number of surgical masks coming into Australia, the ADA has been working hard behind the scenes and constantly talking to the Minister and Chief Medical Officer to get help in finding new mask suppliers.

“This week we finally went public and went to the media on a very difficult situation – if new supply sources weren’t found, many dental practices would be forced to shut their doors within the next four weeks."

As of today, there were over 114,00 confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally with more than 4,000 confirmed deaths. The number of cases in Australian has risen above 80 with around half of those in New South Wales.

The Minister was also joined at the announcement by the Deputy Director of Emergency Medicine at Peninsula Health, John Dowling, who is helping to establish Frankston Hospital in Melbourne as a COVID-19 treatment and testing centre.

"So, we've got preparations in hand to test and treat patients who present with suspected coronavirus, presenting to the emergency department," said Dr Dowling.

"We have plans in place to protect staff with appropriate PPE [personal protective equipment] so that our healthcare workers remain well and remain able to continue to treat patients as they present to hospital."

Shadow health minister Chris Bowen also backed the decision to acquire the additional face masks. 

"There's 20 million masks roughly in the national stockpile. States and territories have their own stockpiles of different things. Of course, if the Government can procure more masks from overseas, remembering that most of the masks in the world are produced in Wuhan, which is an unfortunate confluence of events, and that has damaged world supply of surgical masks.

"But of course, if the Government can procure more for the stockpile, because while 20 million sounds like a lot, it would be used quickly. Of course, that would also have our full support."