Health Minister Greg Hunt has promised "major announcement" on coronavirus testing kits within 24 hours, as he released 230,000 new P2 masks for people testing and taking samples.
Australia had 375 cases of coronavirus by 2pm on Tuesday, a number up almost four-fold from the 100 cases last Tuesday.
On Tuesday evening, the new national cabinet of state and territory leaders and the prime minister will discuss restrictions on indoor gatherings and ways to protect older people including residents of aged care homes. The group meets via video link.
Mr Hunt said access would not be blocked to aged care homes but was likely to be restricted so there were fewer visitors.
"These are our parents and our grandparents. These are our senior Australians who have helped build what we have. And so we have to protect them from the disease, but we don't want to remove them from the most human of contact," he said.
"All of this again goes back to this message of flattening the curve by reducing the spread," Mr Hunt said.
The group will discuss school closures, which haven't been ruled out. Authorities have been reluctant to impose for fear of forcing health workers to stay home looking after their children and unleashing potentially infectious children on grandparents and others who are vulnerable to the virus.
Testing has become a source of major criticism of the government, with people only being tested if they have been overseas or in contact with a known case of someone infected, despite increasing spread of the virus in the community.
Australia is short of some of the chemicals needed in the testing and has urged doctors to only test where necessary.
World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has urged countries to "Test, test, test".
"All countries should be able to test all suspected cases. They cannot fight this pandemic blindfolded," he said.
But Mr Hunt said on Tuesday test kits were sufficient for current requirements and Australia's testing was "one of the highest rates of any country in the world".
"We have actually one of the most advanced testing regimes in the world," he said.
"We have had over 30,000 tests conducted in Australia, and I expect new figures in the next 24 hours which will be significantly in advance of that."
But as a high priority he was sourcing extra test kits and new regimes to allow mass testing of samples.
New P2 masks arrived in Australia on Tuesday and would be distributed to GPs and pathologists taking samples and conducting tests, he said.
The Victorian government says there is a significant shortage of swabs and reagent kits for testing and has urged doctors to use one swab per test. The swabs are usually sourced from Milan, which is in lockdown as Italy struggles to cope with a massive outbreak.
Mr Hunt announced an expansion of Medicare funding for telephone consultations. Midwives are now part of the telehealth system, along with general surgeons, psychiatrists, and geriatricians.
"These are important ways of providing support to those who are diagnosed, in isolation, or from the broad vulnerable community, particularly our elderly or our immune-compromised," he said.
Asked at what point Australia would move to European-style lockdowns, where schools and bars and other venues have been ordered shut, Mr Hunt said Australia wanted to ensure it was "not making the problem worse by destroying the capacity for our health workers, our medical workers [to work], or having an impact on supplies for food and other things".
Mr Hunt said the Doherty Institute had led the world's most advanced mapping of the immune response to coronavirus in patients with mild to moderate disease which would help scientists establish which vaccines were most likely to work and fast-track potential therapies and treatments. At the University of Queensland, progress had been made on using existing drugs to treat patients who developed respiratory problems.
- For information on COVID-19, please go to the federal Health Department's website.
- You can also call the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080
- If you have serious symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, call Triple Zero (000)
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