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Jonathan Dart and Erik Jensen
April 29, 2009

Risky business … safety equipment supplier Todd Saunders said one company bought enough masks for a month. Photo: Domino Postiglione

A CASE of swine flu has yet to be confirmed in Australia but Todd Saunders is already working overtime to combat the virus.

Sales of protective face masks have boomed in the past two days, said Mr Saunders, the general manager of safety equipment supplier Big Safety. One of his corporate clients has placed an order for masks to protect its entire workforce in the case of an emergency.

Melb passengers quarantined
Passengers with any flu-like symptoms are being quarantined at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport.

“They’re planning to have enough masks for the next month for a workforce of 50,” Mr Saunders said. “We’ve also had a rush overnight of people ordering the masks.”

Only a handful of people arriving at Sydney Airport yesterday wore face masks. They came from Hong Kong and Japan – neither are flu-affected countries. “The news was quite excited,” said Hiroko Rosse, who was wearing a mask on a flight from Japan. “It was just to be safe. You never know.”

NSW nurses, seconded to the federal response, swept planes for people complaining of symptoms that “met the case definition for swine influenza.”

Five people were take to hospital for further testing, bringing the state total to 10. None of the cases have been confirmed. Two have been cleared. “They [the nurses] were going to everyone individually, checking symptoms,” said Grant Charlesworth, who had flown back to Sydney from Los Angeles. “They [the cabin crew] were making a lot of announcements an hour or two before we landed. They went through a whole heap of procedure: ‘If you have any flu symptoms, let the air crew know. If you have any symptoms in the next week, contact a doctor.’ ”

Four people complained of symptoms on Mr Charlesworth’s flight. None were deemed to require further testing. Once off the plane, customs procedures continued as normal.

Direct Health Solutions, a company that manages health issues for corporate clients including ANZ and the NAB, has had a 50 per cent increase in health inquiries, with 150 calls taken on Monday alone.

“We’re having a lot of enquiries,” the chief executive, Paul Dundon, said. “We’re running a 24-7 nurse call centre supporting around 20,000 people and there have been a lot of calls from people calling about their symptoms,” he said. “We’ve been flat out.”

The outbreak has also had a big impact on internet traffic, with Nielsen Online survey finding that almost 2 per cent of Twitter conversations involved the subject.


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