Australia PM warns rapid tests won't be free for all as daily COVID-19 cases top 34,000

05:32  03 january  2022
05:32  03 january  2022 Source:   smh.com.au

COVID updates: Here's the latest coronavirus news from around Australia and the world

  COVID updates: Here's the latest coronavirus news from around Australia and the world NSW has recorded more than 6,200 new cases while hundreds in WA are isolating for Christmas.You can jump to the COVID-19 stories you want to read by clicking below.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned rapid antigen tests won't be subsidised for everyone as coronavirus cases continue to rise and the country's leaders finalise plans to make the screening tests available for free in vulnerable communities.

A rapid-antigen test kit. © Eddie Jim A rapid-antigen test kit.

Doing the rounds of breakfast television on Monday, Mr Morrison said rapid antigen tests, which will replace PCR testing in most instances, would be free in certain circumstances, including for close contacts and symptomatic people.

The plan, agreed by national cabinet last week, will see the federal government split the cost of rapid antigen tests provided through testing facilities. However, earlier state plans to hand out free tests to the broader community were scrapped in the deal.

Discussions ramp up over rapid test role

  Discussions ramp up over rapid test role Pressure is mounting for rapid antigen tests to play a bigger role around the country as lines and waiting times blow out at testing facilities Australia-wide.Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is reviewing the state's quarantine and testing policies, with a decision on whether rapid antigen tests can replace some PCR requirements expected within the next day or so.

"We've invested hundreds of billions of dollars getting Australia through this crisis. But we're now in a stage of the pandemic where you can't just make everything free because when someone tells you they want to make something free, someone's always going to pay for it and it's going to be you," Mr Morrison said on Sunrise.

So far on Monday, 34,600 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in NSW, Victoria, Tasmania, the ACT and Queensland. Supplies of rapid antigen tests have been limited in areas with high numbers of COVID-19 cases as PCR testing queues and result wait times blow out, and people on social media have reported costs soaring well over $10 or $15 a test.

The nation's Pharmacy Guild has opposed completely free access to rapid antigen tests while social services groups and unions have been pressuring the government to provide them at no charge to low-income families, and employer groups want them subsidised for workers.

Omicron: is it time to give up?

  Omicron: is it time to give up? Omicron has thrown the country into a seemingly contradictory position: leaders seeking to open up must suddenly consider how to limit its transmission, if at all.This week there was a huge change, as part of an effort to "live with" the virus. The national cabinet's decision to redefine a "close contact" to the bare minimum of someone living with a confirmed COVID-19 case or having spent more than four hours with them in a home, accommodation or care facility will inevitably mean cases — and therefore hospitalisations — will rise.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said it was "common sense" to limit supplies of free rapid antigen tests.

Video: Warning from top NSW doctor as COVID-19 hospital admissions grow (Today)

"If they were an unconstrained flow of completely unpriced products, so as there was an infinite supply to an infinite number of people, then of course, that demand couldn't be met," he said.

"If there were no constraints on that, then people would go down and take crates and boxes away."

Mr Hunt said state and federal governments had bought millions of test kits and there was also the capacity for individuals or businesses to purchase tests through the private market.

In November, national cabinet agreed to work on an Australian guideline for the use of rapid antigen tests, including as a screening tool in vulnerable populations such as Indigenous communities and in schools.

More than two dozen Sydney COVID-19 testing sites shut temporarily

  More than two dozen Sydney COVID-19 testing sites shut temporarily Dozens of PCR testing clinics have been temporarily closed across Sydney as providers struggle to keep up with sustained high demand.Private company Australian Clinical Labs on Monday announced the closure of 28 of its 29 sites "effective immediately", leaving open only its Bella Vista clinic for paid international travel tests.

Mr Hunt said that plan was still being worked out and would be discussed at national cabinet again on Wednesday.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said the Prime Minister had failed to learn lessons from earlier in the pandemic and plan ahead with rapid antigen testing, and people should not be priced out of getting the tests.

"People who can't afford them should be given them. That's the truth of the matter. Because otherwise, the consequences are more dire," he said on the Today show on Monday morning.

"The consequences of people not being able to be tested means that they will be out there in the community spreading the pandemic. And we need to do all that we can.

"We need to get the health outcomes right in order to minimise the economic impact. I don't know how it is that those lessons haven't been learnt. But this government, it's always too little and too late."

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Australia no longer has a credible way of calculating how many people have COVID-19 .
The use of rapid antigen tests is now the preferred strategy - a move that takes pressure off the PCR public testing sites - but authorities are only just starting to put in place mandatory reporting systems for positive RAT results. Mandatory online and phone reporting of positive RAT results came into force in Victoria on Friday, with 24,928 reported on the first day (20,505 of which were from tests taken earlier in the week). New South Wales has said it will require people with positive RAT tests to report their results from this week. All this seems a bit ad hoc, like policy patched together on the run.

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