PM criticised for being behind in RAT race

Andrew Brown and Dominic Giannini |

Scott Morrison has ruled out making rapid antigen tests free, despite growing calls to make them available for everyone.

Following widespread shortages of the rapid tests and large queues at PCR testing clinics across the country, the prime minister said the tests wouldn’t be rolled out freely.

“What we’re focused on is ensuring that the tests are there for those who need them for health reasons,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

“The tests are free if you require one and are required to have one because you’re a close contact or you’re symptomatic.”

Mr Morrison said as many as 160 million rapid tests would soon be arriving in Australia.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr hit out at the prime minister ahead of national cabinet meeting, saying states and territories were working together in the absence of Commonwealth assistance. 

Mr Barr also said the prime minister’s plan to subsidise the cost of rapid tests for concession holders “needs a little bit of work”.

“(Rapid antigen tests) should be free for all public health services,” he said on Wednesday. 

“(Regarding) workplace(s) and in settings like schools, that is something on the national cabinet agenda and I think even the prime minister is on board in that context.”

Mr Morrison was expected to bring to national cabinet a plan where welfare recipients and pensioners receive cash payments for up to five rapid tests, or potentially more if states and territories provide funds.

People would need to meet eligibility requirements to qualify for the subsidy.

However, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has called on the government to make the tests free for everyone, labelling the Commonwealth’s plan as a failure.

“It’s very clear the simplest way to do it is to make tests free and make them available,” he told reporters in Sydney.

“People are crying out for action, the economic consequences of this government’s failure to put in place a proper system are there for all to see.”

Mr Albanese had previously called for the rapid tests to be made affordable but has since changed to wanting tests to be free.

“We’ve considered the options and the clear and simplest, most cost-efficient way is to make tests available,” he said.

Rapid tests have been made free in countries such as the US, UK and Singapore.

The Public Health Association of Australia and Australian Medical Association have also added their voices to the chorus for free rapid tests.

Mr Morrison said Omicron had caused a major disruption in Australia, and that making the rapid tests free would not immediately solve issues.

“There’s no silver bullet, making everything free is not a silver bullet,” he said.

“You’ve just got to work the problem, work it together and push through, and that’s what we’ll be doing at national cabinet.”

National cabinet was also due to consider whether to change the criteria for who is included in hospitalisation figures.

The discussion comes after it was revealed earlier in the week that some people were being admitted to hospital for non-virus related health issues before later testing positive.

On Tuesday, there were 176,223 boosters administered across the country, the highest daily number for the third doses.

More than 64,000 COVID cases were reported nationally on Wednesday, the highest daily number since the pandemic began.

NSW registered a high of 35,054 cases and eight deaths, while there 17,636 cases and another 11 deaths in Victoria.

Tasmania had a record of 867 infections, with Queensland reaching 6781, SA with 3493, the ACT with 810 and NT 117.