Key role for Rapid tests as virus surges
Andrew Brown, Dominic Giannini and Maeve Bannister |
The national cabinet has agreed to multiple changes to COVID-19 testing requirements to help alleviate pressure on stretched health systems around the country.
Rapid antigen tests will play a key role in tackling the Omicron wave with leaders agreeing to provide 10 free rapid tests to more than six million Australians who are concessional card holders.
The tests will be available through pharmacies within the next two weeks.
Universal access to free rapid tests was not agreed to by any state or territory leaders or the federal government, Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
“The cost for those tests being provided concessionally will be met 50-50 by the states and territories and the Commonwealth,” he said.
The prime minister said 200 million rapid tests would be coming to Australia over the next two months.
He said retailers caught hiking up prices by more than 20 per cent could face a penalty of $66,000 and up to five years in jail.
National leaders also agreed to limit the number of tests people can buy to one box of either two or five tests at a time.
People who return a positive COVID result from a rapid antigen test no longer need to have their infection confirmed with a PCR test.
Testing sites will also begin administering rapid tests to help ease the pressure on pathology labs.
Overseas travellers will need to have a rapid test upon arrival and will no longer need to have a second PCR test after arriving in Australia, except if landing in Queensland.
Mr Morrison said all states and territories were moving away from the requirement for a rapid antigen test to travel.
However this was not the case in WA, which did not send a government representative to attend the national cabinet meeting.
“Western Australia will continue, while they were not there today, to operate as they have been,” the prime minister said.
“We envisage that when they open their border and are confronted with the same issues, that they will move into the same system that is operating elsewhere in the country.”
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese had earlier urged the government to make the tests free for everyone, labelling the Commonwealth’s plan a failure.
“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 later changed to wanting the tests to be provided 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 added their voices to the chorus for free rapid tests.
Mr Morrison said Omicron had caused a major disruption in Australia, and 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.
National cabinet was also due to consider whether to change the criteria for who is included in hospitalisation figures, but a decision was not reached.
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 were 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, NT 117 and WA 16.AAP