Discussions ramp up over rapid test role

Dominic Giannini |

Discussions continue over what role rapid antigen tests should play in Australia’s testing regime after the country surpassed the threshold of 10,000 new infections on Monday.

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.

Ms Palaszczuk said the government was considering using rapid antigen tests instead of PCR tests for travellers’ day-five tests.

The premier made her announcement as hundreds of cars were still lined up at one north Brisbane testing site on Monday just ahead of it closing.

Of the people AAP spoke to, around half were from interstate and were required to take a PCR test. Car batteries were going flat in the line and people, including the elderly, were forced to wait for hours in hot vehicles.

The numbers appear to correlate with people lining up in the ACT to get tested, with the territory’s health minister saying anecdotal evidence from testing teams pointed to half of all swabs being for people getting tested to travel.

ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said rapid antigen tests would be better suited for states wanting to test people ahead of travel. 

“Rapid antigen tests aren’t particularly useful when we are targeting … (people) who have been exposed to the virus or who are symptomatic,” she said, noting positive tests would still need PCR confirmation.

“Where they are useful, particularly where they are taken over a number of days, is for that screening purpose.”

Federal Labor’s health spokesperson Mark Butler called on the federal government to make rapid antigen tests accessible and affordable but stopped short of mirroring calls to make them free.

“We need a range of testing options,” he said. 

“We’ve been calling for the government to put in place a testing regime that includes rapid testing at an affordable, widely accessible rate for working families and small businesses in particular.”

NSW has announced it will move to make the rapid tests free in the new year but details remain scarce as testing lines continue to balloon and blunders in returning results add to the mayhem.

St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney admitted to two testing mishaps in as many days, revealing on Monday almost 1000 people were told they were COVID-19 negative when in fact their results hadn’t been returned yet.

It came a day after the hospital confirmed that more than 400 people who initially received a negative result on Christmas Day were notified on Boxing Day they had actually tested positive.

NSW Labor health spokesperson Ryan Park called on the state government to ask for Commonwealth support to prop up a health system at breaking point. 

“People turned away after waiting for four, five and six hours to get tested is not good enough. People waiting days and days and days for their test results to come back is not good enough,” he said.

“The government can’t ask people to live with COVID but then not provide the resources and support for them to do that safely and appropriately.”

Mr Park said the additional support could come in the form of more nurses and health care workers as well as additional logistics support to help with testing and vaccination hubs. 

It came as NSW recorded 6324 new cases and three deaths.

Victoria had 1999 new infections and three deaths as well. 

There were 842 cases in SA, 784 in Queensland, 189 in the ACT, 35 in Tasmania, 12 in the Northern Territory and one in Western Australia.