18/04/2020

A face mask testing facility will be established in Adelaide to support the local production of millions of respirator and surgical masks.

Premier Steven Marshall said the State Government’s strong plan to protect South Australians during the coronavirus pandemic was fostering the development of critical local medical capability.  “Making and testing respirators and surgical masks in Adelaide is exactly the type of innovative response required to provide Australia with the equipment needed to halt the spread of COVID-19 and save lives,” said Premier Marshall. “This is an outstanding example of government, universities and business coming together to work in the national interest in the most challenging of times”

Minister Wade said the establishment of testing facilities at local universities for locally made respirators and surgical masks will provide ongoing assurance to the public of the quality and safety of equipment being used in our hospitals. “I commend the initiative of Flinders University and the University of South Australia for recognising the important role they can play to improve the delivery of this vital protective medical equipment to Australian health workers,” said Minister Wade. “The State Government, Flinders University and the University of South Australia are collaborating to rapidly respond to the need for an onshore facility to test the locally made medical equipment that will start rolling off the production line in May,”

Minister for Innovation and Skills David Pisoni said. “In these unprecedented circumstances, science, research, innovation and collaboration have never been more important. “The State / Marshall Government is determined to do everything we can to support industry and research to fight COVID-19 and minimise the impact on our state. “A $450,000 grant through the Research Commercialisation and Startup Fund will support the South Australian facility, which will be established using laboratories at Flinders Tonsley and UniSA Mawson Lakes, providing new capability for Australia and the state.

“Face masks such as the respirator P2/N95 and level 3 surgical masks need to be tested to strict manufacturing standards to protect frontline health workers, and usually testing is undertaken in the United States, taking around three weeks.“China produces most of the global supply of face masks, however this has been significantly disrupted because of the COVID-19 pandemic.“

Last month, the State and Commonwealth Governments commissioned Detmold, a South Australian packaging company, to establish a respirator (P2/N95 masks) and surgical mask (Level 3) manufacturing capability in Brompton producing 45 million face masks for SA Health and 100 million for the Federal Government’s National Medical Stockpile. “Production is expected to start in May 2020, and at full capacity should produce more than 20 million masks each month for local and national markets.“With this new testing facility, we will be able to deliver this medical equipment to hospitals within weeks, substantially faster than previously.”

Professor Karen Reynolds, Director Medical Device Partnering Program and Dean (Research) College of Science and Engineering Flinders University, said the facility will bring together an impressive array of research strength to ensure the protective equipment used by South Australia’s health professionals keeps them safe.

“In order to protect our vital hospital staff, face masks have to meet rigorous standards – they need to filter out bacteria, resist blood, withstand wear and tear, and yet still be easy to breathe through,” she said.

Professor Caroline McMillen, Chief Scientist of South Australia said it was excellent to see how a team of outstanding researchers in SA had mobilised to collaborate with industry to support the community fight against COVID-19. “It is this type of collaboration that delivers new ways of thinking to drive the innovation required not only to address an immediate challenge but to build the capability and resilience that is important for the future,” she said.

CEO of Detmold Group, Alf Ianniello said these face masks need to be tested to strict Australian standards to protect frontline health workers and the testing is usually undertaken in the US. “Given the critical need for Australian manufacturing of masks to ensure adequate supply of personal protective equipment for the medical industry, we cannot afford to wait for our surgical masks to be tested overseas.”