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'Groundbreaking': Billionaire's move gives Australia 'pathway back' from coronavirus

Australian billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest has acquired 10 million coronavirus tests from China on behalf of Australia.

The “groundbreaking” move by Mr Forrest’s philanthropic organisation Minderoo Foundation has been made possible with the $320 million it set aside to help Australia in the pandemic – an amount that will be repaid by the government over time.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt announced the move on Wednesday and said the mining magnate’s contacts in China enabled him to acquire the huge amount of tests.

Andrew Forrest and Greg Hunt make the announcement on Wednesday. Source: AAP
Andrew Forrest and Greg Hunt make the announcement on Wednesday. Source: AAP

“Andrew, through his work, has been able to secure on behalf of the Australian government 10 million PCR coronavirus tests,” Mr Hunt said.

“To put that in context, we have just completed over the last two-and-a-half months 500,000 tests and a little bit more.

“So this will multiply our tests between now and the end of the year by almost 20 fold.”

Live blog: Coronavirus news and updates

Mr Hunt said the coup has given Australia a “pathway back”.

"Today is a hugely important step on that road,” he said.

Mr Forrest said he has been able to acquire 11 “incredibly rare” testing machines, nine of which are under commission, and will be rolled out no later than the end of May.

Polymerase chain reaction tests, known as PCR, are the most common and most accurate tests for determining whether someone is currently infected with the novel coronavirus, a CNN investigation found.

“The PCR test works by starting with a throat swab or sputum sample from a patient, amplifying that specimen in a machine, and then looking for unique coronavirus genetic material,” CNN said.

Mr Forrest said the challenge now for states and territories across Australia is to perform widespread testing to ensure the virus isn’t spreading within the community.

That ramped up testing was one of Scott Morrison’s three musts that Australia must meet alongside improved contact tracing and stronger responses to outbreaks to be able to ease restrictions.

Australia beat many countries to 10 million tests contract

Mr Forrest urged leaders to “elucidate the virus, to show it up and to free your populations and let's get back to work.”

Amid growing tensions between China and Australia over a potential investigation into the origin of the coronavirus outbreak, Mr Forrest said the kits were secured with the assistance of BGI Genomics based in China.

Mr Forrest said multiple countries had made much higher bids than his for the test kits, but praised BGI’s chairman Wang Jian for his loyalty.

“Your integrity to withstand the attacks on the supply lines between yourself and myself is unimpeachable,” he said.

Supplies Mr Forrest has managed to acquire arriving in Perth. Source: AAP
Supplies Mr Forrest has managed to acquire arriving in Perth. Source: AAP

“There is sovereign competition like never before for any equipment that I have ever seen in my life as well as the reagents.”

Mr Forrest poured cold water on a potential rift between China and Australia, suggesting the relationship was “solid” and there was no threat of a boycott on Australian produce or tourism.

He said any relationship would have its “ups and downs” but ultimately it was a “long-term relationship which has existed since prior to World War I... and that should not change”.

Also speaking at the press conference, China's consul-general to Victoria, Long Zhou, praised the partnership between the Minderoo Foundation and BGI and reiterated the strong relationship between China and Australia.

“China very much appreciates and is thankful to the compassion, support and sympathy of the Australian people to towards the Chinese people in our fight against the virus and vice versa, we are also doing everything possible to help Australia,” he said.

“This project is another testimony of the friendship and the cooperation between our two countries.”

The move by Mr Forrest and Minderoo follows their announcement in January of a $70m donation to help bushfire affected communities.

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