International arrivals to use RATs

Dominic Giannini and Andrew Brown |

Australia will accept a negative rapid antigen test from international arrivals with 24-hours of the flights departure, scrapping the requirement for a PCR test. 

The changes will come into effect from 1am on Sunday in a move that is consistent with domestic measures that accept RATs as a diagnostic tool. 

The time a person is banned from entering the country after testing positive to COVID-19 has also been cut in half from 14 days to seven, bringing it in line with domestic isolation requirements. 

The changes were announced on Australia deadliest day of the pandemic.

There were 88 virus-related fatalities reported across the country on Friday, eclipsing the previous record of 78 set on Tuesday.

More than half of the deaths on Friday were recorded in NSW, which had 46 fatalities, a one-day record in the state.

Of the 46 fatalities, seven were from historical cases and had been determined as COVID-19 deaths following coronial investigations.

NSW also confirmed the death in December of an infant with COVID-19, although that fatality has not yet been recorded in official figures pending the conclusion of a coronial investigation.

There were a further 20 deaths in Victoria, 13 in Queensland and one in Tasmania, the state’s first COVID fatality for almost two years.

There were two deaths in the ACT, an equal high for the pandemic, along with six in South Australia.

The figures come as WA Premier Mark McGowan backed down on a promise to reopen the state to the rest of the country from February 5.

Mr McGowan said WA reopening as planned would be “reckless and irresponsible” given the large number of cases in the eastern states.

No new date has been set for when the state may relax its hardline border measures, with Mr McGowan indicating more time was needed to roll out booster shots and vaccines for children.

Federal Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the decision made by the WA premier was the right call.

“I told (Mark McGowan) I respected and supported the decision,” Mr Albanese told reporters in Sydney.

“People were keen to visit loved ones, but the first priority of Mark McGowan has been to keep WA safe. People in WA enjoy life almost as normal, certainly compared with NSW.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said while he could understand the decision made by the west, more certainty was needed for residents going forward.

“(West Australians) would be asking, ‘If not now, when?'” Mr Frydenberg told the Seven Network on Friday.

“This is a decision that the Western Australian government themselves have taken, and one for them to explain, but obviously people in WA would be disappointed with the decision.”

The choice to hold off reopening has been slammed by the president of the Australian Medical Association Dr Omar Khorshid, who called the premier “a one-trick pony when it comes to COVID-19”.

“This decision should be acknowledged as a failure by the WA government to prepare and a broken promise,” he said on Twitter.

Dr Khorshid said WA could not stick its head in the sand, with an outbreak in the state inevitable.

The Business Council of Australia also lashed out at the delay.

Its president Tim Reed said the decision ignored the reality that Australia was living with the virus.

“The virus is here to stay, and the longer restrictions stay in place, the bigger the damage to the economy and to people’s mental health and wellbeing,” he said.

“Once and for all, it’s time to end arbitrary border closures and get serious about giving Australians the certainty to plan, no matter where they are in the country.”

Across the country, there were 25,168 cases in NSW, 18,167 in Victoria, 16,031 in Queensland, 3023 in South Australia 866 in Tasmania and 826 in the ACT.