NSW residents face fines over RAT reports

Hannah Ryan |

NSW residents who fail to report positive rapid antigen test results will face a $1000 fine as the state makes a “messy” transition to its COVID-19 testing regime.

Residents aged 16 and older can now log any positive at-home tests they have taken this year via the ServiceNSW app or website, in a process Premier Dominic Perrottet said is “seamless”. 

Uploading the positive result within 24 hours is mandatory from Wednesday.

Police enforcement will commence from January 19, though Mr Perrottet concedes it will be difficult. 

People who test positive on RATs will have to isolate for seven days, unless they have no symptoms and no known exposure – in which case they must do another test within 24 hours. 

The premier on Wednesday said the shift was not just about counting cases but understanding who has underlying conditions and may need more care.

Those who test positive will be asked for details about their medical background and sorted into high and low risk cases, with the former to receive extra contact from NSW Health.

NSW Health has repeatedly warned the official case numbers were likely inaccurate, as so far it has counted those who have returned a positive PCR test. 

The daily case numbers – which reached 34,759 on Wednesday – will include PCR and RAT statistics from later in the week.

Opposition Leader Chris Minns, who’s called on RATs to be free, on Wednesday said many people still can’t get their hands on RATs.

“I think millions of families in the state at the moment would be saying, ‘Forget about the fine, where’s the test?'” he said.

“This is a fundamental failure of the NSW government. It’s the minimum responsibility of the government of the day to be able to tell the people in NSW whether they’ve got the disease or not.”

Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant on Wednesday apologised for the “messy” transition to the testing approach, which she said had happened far quicker than authorities wanted.

She urged anyone who did not have access to RATs to take a PCR, especially if they have underlying conditions.

Mr Perrottet said PCR and RATs will both have a role in achieving good testing coverage, particularly as NSW struggles with RAT supply. 

The new policy will make PCR lines and turnarounds shorter, he said. 

A record 21 new deaths were reported on Wednesday, including 17 men and four women. One person was in their 30s. Eight were unvaccinated, 12 vaccinated, and one person had received one dose.

Seven deaths from between September and December 2021 were included in Wednesday’s count following coronial investigations.

The number of people in hospital continues to rise, with 2242 people admitted and 175 in intensive care.

Meanwhile, Mr Perrottet confirmed his government is considering a voucher system for rapid antigen tests, along the lines of the Dine & Discover program.

The state has ordered 100 million RATs and will use them to minimise disruption to schools, transport and health services.

Schools are a high priority to receive the tests, he said. 

The premier reiterated his commitment to having students back on the first day of term, rejecting a Queensland-style postponement.

“I am passionately committed to doing it. I completely disagree with the doctors’ union in relation to this space,” Mr Perrottet said. 

“We need kids back.”

About nine-in-10 cases in NSW are the highly transmissible Omicron variant, Dr Chant said.

While nine-in-10 ICU cases were Delta at the start of December, Omicron now makes up two-thirds of them.

More than 50 per cent of ICU patients are unvaccinated.