The federal government is considering rushing ventilators stockpiled at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to India, as the country grapples with consecutive days of record-breaking COVID-19 infections.
The Indian health system is at breaking point from the country’s second wave, with hospitals running out of oxygen supplies and beds.
For the fifth straight day, India set a global record for a rise in daily coronavirus cases — with 352,991 cases in the last 24 hours.
The number of people who have died also jumped by an all-time high of 2,812, reaching a total of 195,123.
So far, more than 17 million people in India have contracted the virus.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the government was in the process of considering what it could send to help.
“And while we can assist with the national medical stockpile, their particular request is for assistance with regards to the physical supply of oxygen.”
Mr Hunt said the government would reach out to the states to see if any of the oxygen supplies could be donated.
But he said the government could donate non-invasive ventilators that are currently in the national stockpile.
The Commonwealth ramped up purchases of ventilators in preparation for a worst-case COVID-19 scenario last year, and they are now sitting unused across the country.
“We are in a strong position on that front because we don’t need them at this point in time,” Mr Hunt said.
“We will still keep a reserve.”
The National Security Committee of Cabinet is meeting tomorrow to discuss any assistance for India, as well as any extra steps that may need to be taken to minimise the risk of infections spreading to Australia.
COVID fears making life a ‘nightmare’
Last week, National Cabinet announced there would be a 30 per cent reduction in flights from India — both commercial and government-organised repatriation flights — after a spike in cases in returned travellers.
Mr Hunt would not pre-empt whether NSC would make recommendations for further travel restrictions, saying it would make decisions based on medical advice.
“We’ve made the heartrending decision to have to reduce flights, at the same time we want to bring Australians home,” he said.
“If we [cut flights further], we will do it with a heavy heart – but without hesitation.”
Joh Gwynn, who runs a Facebook group for Australians in India with some 17,000 members, said life in the capital was a “nightmare”.
“We’re hearing that COVID is more or less in in every household we hear our members are too fearful to leave their houses even to get food and essential items because of fear of getting COVID,” she said.
“And then if they do get COVID they can’t get on a flight even if they are lucky enough to have a ticket.”
Reuters: Danish Siddiqui
Several countries have already pledged assistance to India.
The United States has promised to allow more raw ingredients to be exported to India to help it ramp up COVID-19 vaccine production.
The United Kingdom, Germany and France have also promised to send desperately needed medical equipment to India, including ventilators and oxygen concentrators.
One federal government source told the ABC that India was facing “truly daunting” challenges and Australia faced a “difficult balancing act” as it weighed both diplomatic and public health imperatives.
The Indian Government is already bracing for new flight restrictions as cases continue to climb, with several European nations announcing new bans and quarantine measures for travellers coming from India.
Hunt defends hotel quarantine
The Health Minister was also asked about recent criticism of the hotel quarantine model.
WA president of the Australian Medical Association, Andrew Miller, today described it as “an abuse of human rights” and that “it doesn’t work”.
“We’ve infected innocent people, we’ve infected a pregnant woman and her four-year-old child in there, and we’ve got a lockdown in the community despite the governments — both governments — having been warned for some time this is an airborne disease,” he said.
Read more about Australia’s vaccine rollout:
He said alternatives, like using old workers and mining camps, should be considered.
Mr Hunt said that while the system would never be perfect, it had proved successful the majority of the time.
“My view is we have the best quarantine system, or at the very least the equal of the best, of any in the world,” he said.
“This has been the front-line in our protection and half a million Australians have come home since mid-March of last year when the restrictions were put in place.
“Unless you were to absolutely cut Australia off from the rest of the world — no medical returns, no compassionate returns, no trade in or out … then you cannot prevent contact.”
He pointed to a recent case of a border worker in New Zealand who, despite being fully vaccinated and wearing PPE, still contracted the virus.
Mr Hunt said other options were still be considered but that hotel quarantine was working well as Australia’s “first ring of containment” to stop the virus entering the community.
This content was originally published here.