Nearly one million protective masks have been sent to airport staff and doctors, after the Australian government unlocked its stockpile for those working on the coronavirus front line.
The Department of Health has confirmed to nine.com.au that 550,000 surgical masks from the federal stash have been released for GPs and health workers.
More than 300,000 masks have also been sent to Australian government agency staff, including Australian Border Force agents and Department of Agriculture officers at airports. The masks at airports will be given to those engaged in high risk activities and also for high risk passengers, it is understood.
Over the past month hardware stores and chemists have been stripped of protective masks, with coronavirus emerging in the middle of a catastrophic wildfire season.
Last month the head of the Royal Australian College of GPs, Dr Harry Nespolon, urged the government to release masks from its huge stockpile to GPs.
Nine.com.au can confirm the government currently has 12 million P2 masks, suitable for bushfire air pollution, in its federal stockpile. Additionally, the government has 7.5 million surgical masks stashed away which can be used to protect against coronavirus.
So far only 15 people in Australia have been confirmed with cases of coronavirus. In a media briefing today, Health Minister Greg Hunt said five individuals have been released from hospital and the remaining ten are in a stable condition.
The situation is less certain for the 229 Australian passengers on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which is currently docked and quarantined in Japan.
Eleven Australians on the cruise ship have been diagnosed with the coronavirus and are receiving medical treatment by Japanese authorities.
Meanwhile, the 14-day quarantine period for the first Australian coronavirus evacuees from China will expire next week, meaning they are free to go home.
Australians quarantined will begin leaving Christmas Island after a final health check on Monday and Wednesday.
A total of 530 Australians have been evacuated from China following the virus outbreak, heading into quarantine on Christmas Island and a worker camp near Darwin.
During his briefing today, Minister Hunt said his office had received “reports of discrimination” against the Australian-Chinese community.
Mr Hunt said many Australian-Chinese residents have had a “stressful and difficult time” over the past few weeks.
Streets in Sydney’s Chinatown and Eastwood, where almost 40 per cent of residents in the northwest Sydney suburb identify as having Chinese ancestry, have been noticeably quiet.
“If there are shopping centres in areas that have particularly strong concentrations of people with Chinese-Australian backgrounds, there is no reason not to be there,” Mr Hunt said.