Government tells Australians they will have to go it alone with rapid COVID tests

A rapid COVID test.

Photo by Brent Lewin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Amid another major COVID-19 outbreak, Australians have been encouraged to make the most of what little federal support remains available to them as the clock ticks down on free access to antigen testing fast and disaster payments recede into the rearview mirror.

Appearing on ABC national radio Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Wednesday morning urged vulnerable older people and concession card holders to come in and claim the last 10 free rapid antigen tests available to them before his government ends the program at the end of the month. .

Program host Patricia Karvelas asked Albanese why her government would go ahead with the decision, when people infected with the new Omicron BA.4/5 subvariant are increasing at rates considered alarming by pharmacists and general practitioners peak organs at the heart of a living crisis cost.

“Well, to be very clear, my government didn’t make that decision, it’s a legacy decision from the previous government and state governments,” Albanese said.

“We inherited a series of positions from the former government and we also inherited a trillion dollars in debt.”

The line has become a familiar refrain for the new Labor government, just six weeks after taking office. In this case, the Albanian government could extend the expiry date of the program as easily as the program was introduced.

Over the past two weeks, state health officials across the country have been issuing warnings to residents as they prepare for a surge in Omicron cases, which is expected to peak in late July or early august.

On Tuesday last week, NSW Director of Health Dr Kerry Chant appeared before reporters at his first COVID-19 press conference in months to encourage people in NSW to get vaccinated and to wear masks in “indoor spaces, in stores, and in pharmacies”.

Health officials across the country have issued new state-to-state warnings, but those in NSW have been the most definitive in predicting a number of malicious cases. Late last month Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr John Gerrard said he expected Omicron’s BA.4/BA.5 strain to be the dominant subvariant seen across the state over the next few weeks.

Even still, the Albanian government has remained steadfast on revoking free access to RATs, much to the dismay of top pharmacist and GP bodies, which on Tuesday called on the government to reconsider the decision.

Karen Price, president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, said boosting access to RATs for low-income people and vulnerable members of the community would be key to tackling this next wave of infections.

“This virus is not going away anytime soon and we need to step up measures to reduce community transmission,” Price said. “Ensuring access to RATs is an essential tool in the fight against COVID-19.”

The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia, meanwhile, said the withdrawal of government support for access to RATs incorrectly suggests to Australians that the pandemic is a threat of debilitation, when the opposite is true.

Previously, Albanese was a strong supporter of the scheme and even called for the scheme to be rolled out to a wider set of Australians than was proposed by the former coalition government.

In front of a national cabinet meeting in JanuaryAlbanese – who was the leader of the opposition at the time – said it was “ridiculous” to limit access to free rapid antigen tests to the elderly and concession card holders and called the former government to make them freely available, along with unions and welfare advocates.

“We have looked at the options and it is clear that this is the easiest, most effective, most fair and most responsible way to fix the mess that Scott Morrison has made of testing at this critical stage of the pandemic” , said Albanese, as a national daily. the number of cases hovered around the mid-60,000s.

At the time, RATs cost around $3 on the wholesale market, but the Morrison government’s inability to order enough created fertile ground for a proliferating black market, which saw some retailers charging gaoge consumers more than 10 times the price of the product. assess.

In January, you could see tests being sold for exorbitant amounts everywhere, from pharmacies to Gumtree, to tobacconists and even Kebab shops, where the product was added as a menu item available for purchase on UberEats. .

Albanese, in various appearances with reporters earlier this year, used the price hike to make his case for free testing, until he eventually backtracked on them before federal elections.

His language began to change markedly the first week of May, just two weeks before voters go to the polls. Five months after campaigning for universal access to RATs, Albanese abandoned his arguments because “times” had “changed”.

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