Mining companies pitch in to beat virus challenges

Glencore and BHP have ramped up their efforts to prevent and treat coronavirus in Australia.

Glencore provided the Mount Isa Hospital with $45,000 to acquire a new instrument, cartridge and nasal swab collection kit that will enable local testing, a move that was praised by the Queensland Resources Council (QRC).

The equipment is hoped to dramatically reduce the timeframe for test results from three and a half days to three hours, as COVID-19 nasal swab samples had to be flown from Mount Isa to Brisbane or Townsville for analysis until now.

The North West Hopsital and Health Services’ acting chief executive Karen Murphy said the equipment would be crucial for diagnosing urgent cases.

“Previously, testing for COVID-19 has been dependent on airlines and external labs, but with this equipment funded by Glencore, we now have the safety net that we deserve in North West Queensland,” she said.

QRC chief executive Ian Macfarlane said the shorter testing times would be vital for people in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in the state’s north west.

The equipment can also be used to analyse other respiratory viruses, staph infections and influenza A and B, according to Mount Isa Hospital’s emergency department director, Ulrich Orda.

Elsewhere in the state, the BHP Foundation committed $2 million to support the University of Queensland in developing a potential vaccine for coronavirus.

The charitable organisation is also set to grant $1 million to the Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne to further a clinical trial that tests the potential of COVID-19 treatment drugs.

“As a new disease, there are currently no treatment options for COVID-19,” Doherty Institute director Sharon Lewin said.

“The aim of Australasian COVID-19 trial (ASCOT) is to test the safety and efficacy of existing drugs in a controlled environment in the hope we can use them to save lives.”

BHP Foundation chief executive James Ensor believes that there are only two solution pathways: life-saving treatment for people infected by coronavirus and the development of a vaccine to prevent more COVID-19 infections.

“As a global community we have to come together,” he said.

“We all have a responsibility to play our part in finding solutions.”