Experts sound alarm on testing changes

Andrew Brown |

Changes to Australia’s COVID-19 testing regime have been criticised by medical experts, who are warning surveillance of the virus could be undermined.

People who test positive on a rapid antigen test will no longer have to get their results confirmed with a PCR test, following changes made at Wednesday’s national cabinet meeting.

The change is designed to help ease pressure on PCR testing sites, which have experienced surges in demand due to widespread shortages of rapid tests.

However, experts have warned the shift would lead to the true number of COVID-19 cases not being properly recorded in daily reports, because rapid tests results are generally done at home and are not officially recorded.

An epidemiologist at the University of Melbourne, Professor Tony Blakely, said COVID-19 surveillance would not be accurate going forward.

“The horse has bolted, I think this is the biggest policy failure so far in Australia,” Professor Blakely told the Seven Network on Thursday.

“We also haven’t thought about how you can load up that data to the surveillance system, so we won’t get that in place in the next couple of weeks.”

Professor Blakely said he hoped rapid tests sold in Australia would be equipped with a QR code for patients to upload their results.

A similar setup has been implemented in the UK, where rapid tests are free for everyone.

The national cabinet meeting also resulted in a promise that more rapid antigen tests would be available soon.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced more than six million concession cardholders would be provided with 10 free tests over a three-month period.

Mr Morrison said 200 million rapid tests would be available in the country in coming weeks, however, he ruled out making rapid tests free for everyone.

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.

“This virus will continue to challenge us and it is important that we all remain calm,” Mr Morrison said.

“We have no choice but to ride the wave.

“We have to keep working through the problems and dealing with the challenges presented.” 

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, NT 117 and WA 16.