Significant changes to COVID testing requirements

Paul Hayes

5/01/2022 8:12:48 PM

People with a positive rapid antigen test will no longer need a PCR test, as part of efforts to ease pressure on the country’s buckling systems.

Scott Morrison
Prime Minister Scott Morrison hopes the changes ‘will take pressure off PCR testing lines’. (Image: AAP)

With the Omicron variant driving an explosion in case numbers (that are likely well below actual figures), testing centres at capacity before they even open, and people waiting days and days for their PCR results, Australia’s national cabinet moved to relieve some of the pressure following its meeting on Wednesday 5 January.
Testing requirements will significantly alter. In a move that will affect tens of thousands of people across the country, anyone who returns a positive rapid antigen test will no longer be required to get a PCR test.
‘That will take pressure off PCR testing lines,’ Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters.
In addition, regular testing for truck drivers is to be scrapped, international arrivals will no longer be required to have a second test when they land in Australia (although Queensland will maintain the rule until it reaches 90% double vaccination), and people will not need a pre-arrival test before treatment in a hospital.
‘You will likely be given one when you are [at the hospital],’ Prime Minister Morrison said. ‘You don’t need to go line up in these queues because you are going to get hospital treatments. We discourage that requirement for people to have tests before receiving even private treatment.’
The Prime Minister was clear that he wants to limit the number of people lining up for a PCR test.
‘If you are a close contact, as recently redefined, if you are symptomatic, then you need to go and get a test from the testing clinic,’ he said.
‘If you are not a close contact, if you are not symptomatic, you do not need to get a test. That is the advice that we have.
‘We need to ensure we focus the testing resources on the essential tests that are required, not the casual test.’
Rapid antigen tests, the price and scarcity of which have been the source of much controversy during Australia’s current COVID outbreak, were also discussed at the national cabinet meeting.
Despite increasingly vocal calls for the tests to be made free to all Australians, including from the RACGP, the Prime Minister continues to resist any such suggestion.
‘Universal free access was not considered the right policy response by all of the states and territories in attendance today, and the Commonwealth,’ he said.
‘What was agreed, though, was providing … a model to provide concessional access for tests over a three-month period, and they will be made available through the pharmacy network.’
National cabinet agreed to provide up to 10 free rapid antigen tests to concession-card holders over the next three months, starting within the next two weeks. This applies to Australians who hold a Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, a healthcare card, a low-income card, a pension concession card, or a Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) gold or white card.
‘They should only be getting those tests if they are not symptomatic and they are not close contacts,’ Prime Minister Morrison said. ‘If you are symptomatic or a close contact, you can go to the testing centre as many times as you need to.’
Concession-card holders will only be able to access up to five tests in a month.
Free rapid antigen tests have so far been restricted to close contacts, people with symptoms, and healthcare and aged care workers.
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