No need for daily workplace rapid test: PM

Andrew Brown |

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has urged businesses not to enforce rules requiring employees to return a negative rapid antigen test each day before they start work.

While the prime minister acknowledged people’s frustrations during the summer period because of escalating Omicron cases and rapid test shortages, he said daily tests for employees were only needed in essential sectors like health, aged care and meat processing.

“There is no requirement for workers to be tested on a daily basis with rapid antigen tests, that is not the medical advice,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

“Seeking to impose that would not only frustrate supplies, but it would also impose further burdens on our employers.”

As COVID-19 deaths across the country continue to rise amid the Omicron outbreak, Mr Morrison said the variant must be respected but not feared.

The government is also considering whether to adopt a US-style approach and reduce the isolation period from seven days to five following a positive COVID-19 test result.

“All of these things are always under active consideration and have been for some time,” Mr Morrison said.

“The most recent information that we have is that post-five days you’ve still got 30 per cent (of cases) that are remaining infectious, and so that is a calibrated decision you’ve got to make.”

National cabinet is scheduled to meet on Thursday, where a unified approach to reopening schools safely is on the agenda.

The prime minister said it was still uncertain whether all states and territories would agree to the same reopening approach.

Meanwhile, NSW is set to have students undergo rapid testing several times a week as part of its safety measures.

“There is a very strong case about surveillance testing for teachers, just like we do with healthcare workers,” Mr Morrison said.

“Each state jurisdiction will make their own call on that … and when they do, the Commonwealth will support them in that, including arrangements for students.”

Labor health spokesman Mark Butler said the government had failed to secure enough rapid antigen tests to ensure access.

“The prime minister is now trying to rewrite history and pretend that the emergence of this new variant was something completely new,” he said.

“It was a job he had to do if we were going to move to the next phase of the pandemic and it is a job he has failed.”

As shortages of rapid antigen tests persist across the country, 52 million kits will be flown from Asia and the US into Australia this month through an emergency freight supply scheme.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said rapid tests continued to be in short supply across the globe.

“These kits – destined for supermarkets, pharmacies and medical services across the country – will help Australians juggling the demands of jobs and families with requirements to isolate and undergo rapid testing,” he said.

Several jurisdictions on Wednesday also moved to shorten the time before people could get their third COVID-19 dose.

The interval between doses has been lowered to three months in NSW, Victoria, South Australia and the ACT.

Wednesday has been another deadly day for Australia during the pandemic, with 67 fatalities recorded.

Of those, 32 were in NSW, 18 in Victoria, 11 in Queensland and six in SA.

The country on Tuesday recorded its deadliest day of the pandemic with 77 deaths.

There were more than 32,000 cases of COVID-19 reported in NSW on Wednesday, while Victoria and Queensland had 20,769 and 19,932 cases respectively. 

South Australia had 3482 cases, Tasmania registered 1185 new infections and the ACT had 1467.