How COVID-19 will be managed in 2023

Matt Woodley

12/12/2022 5:26:34 PM

‘COVID exceptionalism’ and bespoke arrangements will be a thing of the past, according to a new Government plan.

Person holding rapid antigen test
Low-risk individuals will not be required to seek PCR tests to confirm a COVID diagnosis in 2023, and will instead be directed to use rapid antigen tests.

Australia will transition towards managing COVID-19 in a similar way to other respiratory viruses, a new Federal Government plan has outlined.
As a result, 2023 will see a number of changes, including the phasing out of PCR testing for surveillance purposes, reduced access to the National Medical Stockpile (NMS), and the winding down of GP-led respiratory clinics from permanent fixtures to ‘activated as required’.
However, even though health authorities will move away from ‘COVID exceptionalism and bespoke arrangements’, the document cautions that disease-specific safeguards will remain in place.
‘While we are learning more about the virus and its impacts on the community and health systems all the time, we are not yet at a “steady state” where we can predict and manage it within normal systems,’ it states.
‘This means health response measures are still required.’
The key objectives of the plan, which has been informed by the ‘likely 2023 Australian epidemiological outlook’ and advice from Australia’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Professor Paul Kelly, are:

  • minimising the level of severe COVID-19 and death
  • prioritising those at risk of severe illness, including through targeted supports
  • ensuring the health system as a whole has the capacity and capability to respond to future waves and variants
  • promoting uptake of COVID-19 vaccinations and treatments
  • slowing the spread of transmission, including through each individual’s actions and engagement with protective measures.
The epidemiological outlook, provided by Professor Kelly, forecasts that Australia will continue to experience frequent waves ‘for at least the next two years’ but that these may be milder and could place less pressure on the healthcare system.
‘This, combined with improved immunity and hybrid immunity from repeat infections and targeted vaccinations, would reduce the clinical impact and result in fewer Australians suffering severe illness and death,’ he wrote.
As part of the shift towards a post-pandemic healthcare system, the document indicates COVID-19 testing requirements will be aligned with testing arrangements associated with other respiratory illnesses – albeit with an emphasis on fast results to ensure access to oral antivirals.
‘Testing for COVID-19 will no longer be a surveillance tool but will be more targeted and used to ensure quick access to antiviral treatments,’ it states.
‘From 1 January 2023, to obtain a Medicare-funded PCR test you will require a referral from a medical or nurse practitioner. There is no public health requirement or recommendation for low-risk individuals to seek PCR testing.
‘It is vital that easy access to testing and treatment for people who may benefit from antiviral therapies is maintained.’
Federal Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler has also confirmed that the 76 existing GP-led respiratory clinics will be ‘put on a retainer arrangement’ from March, and only activated ‘in the event of future waves’.
However, while testing will be scaled back, Commonwealth funding has been extended to support GP consultations for COVID-positive patients and longer telehealth consultations for those seeking a prescription for oral antivirals.
Targeted vaccination will also take place in an effort to increase booster rates, particularly for Australian and Torres Strait Islander people (56.5% third dose) and individuals living in residential aged care facilities (92% third dose, 74.7% fourth dose).
Meanwhile, a new National Partnership Agreement to Protect Priority Groups from COVID-19 will reportedly be available to help states and territories target PCR testing and vaccine uptake among at-risk cohorts.
Surveillance screening of staff and visitors to RACFs will also be maintained, but their access to NMS supplies will likely return to pre-pandemic arrangements.
‘As the health and aged care systems rebuild their resilience and recover from the original shock of COVID-19, and commercial availability of health supplies and PPE increase, the NMS will transition back to a strategic reserve,’ the plan states.
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Dr Samantha Ann Bryant   13/12/2022 11:04:41 PM

Again the rarity of commonsense prevails. Everyone has gathered for holidays and caught covid ,but now they have to find a rare GP appointment in January to have their covid managed. As a GP who had to work very hard in January 2022 with covid out of control with limited resources and testing and treatment the government wants to d,o it all over again while they are on holidays. Thank you!!!