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Australia Australia no longer has a credible way of calculating how many people have COVID-19

07:14  08 january  2022
07:14  08 january  2022 Source:   theage.com.au

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Australia is now well past the point where public health authorities might accurately identify where and when COVID-19 cases have emerged. Indeed, the nation no longer has any credible way of calculating just how many people are infected with the virus.

29/12/21 This Pharmacy on Sydney Road, Brunswick is displaying a sign showing they have supply of Rapid Antigen Test kits. Photograph by Chris Hopkins © Chris Hopkins 29/12/21 This Pharmacy on Sydney Road, Brunswick is displaying a sign showing they have supply of Rapid Antigen Test kits. Photograph by Chris Hopkins

As it stands, there is apparently no requirement for people to test themselves if they suspect they may have the disease. And, while the use of rapid antigen tests (RATs) is now the preferred strategy - a move that takes pressure off the PCR public testing sites - authorities are only just starting to put in place mandatory reporting systems for positive RAT results.

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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.

Yet state and federal health authorities have known for months that Australia was facing exactly this situation because as soon as they shelved the COVID-zero strategy, it was recognised that the virus would spread. Where was the planning?

The living-with-COVID strategy emerged in large part because Australia had achieved commendably high vaccination rates. But the Omicron variant of COVID-19, with its high rate of transmissibility, has proved to be a completely different beast.

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Changes to the testing requirements in recent weeks have been necessary and should be welcomed. Among other things, allowing people to test at home - away from the massive queues at PCR testing sites - reduces the risk that more people might acquire COVID-19 through exposure in the queues.

But one outcome of the shift to RATs is a severe deficiency of data about transmission of the virus, its spread throughout the community, the infection rate per head of population, and more.

Such data is vital for ensuring fast, effective and appropriate hospital responses, for determining the timing of booster vaccines, and for devising strategies for managing the workforce generally. It also assists in identifying variants swiftly.

Accurate, publicly available data also helps reinforce public messaging by health authorities. For the past two years, it has helped persuade the community to isolate, avoid crowded events or wind back their social activities. It has influenced everything from the work-at-home directives to cancellation of major events.

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For the past two years, Australians have hung on just about every word issued by the relevant federal and state ministers and health authorities. They have watched (seemingly interminable) press conferences by political leaders, mostly obeyed the directives, and tried to keep themselves, their families, friends and colleagues safe.

But in recent weeks, the directives about testing and reporting have become increasingly confusing and at times contradictory. They have been as rubbery as a pair of thongs.

As well, the Prime Minister's continuing refusal for the federal government to provide free rapid antigen tests to everybody - and not merely subsidise the cost for some - might salve his concern about the government competing unfairly with the private sector, but it grossly undercuts the entire nation's public health needs.

We have said it before and it demands repeating: rapid antigen tests need to be free of charge and widely accessible to everybody.

As the number of new COVID cases soars into the scores of thousands, hospitals are under extreme pressure, non-urgent elective surgery has again been cancelled in Victoria and in NSW, and businesses are suffering because their employees are hunkered down with the disease or needing to isolate.

Australians truly deserve better than the vacillating responses coming from governments at this time. They want genuine leadership, compassion and clear, accurate messages to help them navigate the way ahead.

Australia's rapid antigen test shortage may worsen as China's Lunar New Year holiday looms .
Some logistics companies will temporarily close for the Lunar New Year holiday on February 1, but many manufacturers vow to work through to meet demand.The Lunar New Year holiday falls on February 1, and is typically the world's largest annual migration of people, although Beijing urged people to stay home last year and may do so again in light of Omicron outbreaks.

usr: 0
This is interesting!