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Coronavirus Australia: Experts slam Australia’s Covid testing chaos and rapid antigen test shortage 

Only Australia’s rich could be able to buy rapid antigen tests unless federal and state governments step in to make them free for everyone, a leading epidemiologist has warned.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has come under heavy fire over his decision to leave the rollout of rapid test kits to the private market and not make them free, which have sparked skyrocketing prices and heavily restricted access to the in-demand product.

Pharmacy and supermarket shelves have been stripped bare of rapid antigen tests in recent weeks with some stores now charging up to $20 for a single test as the Omicron crisis worsens. 

Demand soared exponentially after NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet last week pleaded with Australians to refrain from getting a PCR test unless advised by health officials or are symptomatic to relieve the enormous strain on testing clinics and waiting times for results.

University of NSW Professor of epidemiology Mary-Louise McLaws has called for testing clinics to use PCR tests on symptomatic people, with rapid tests to be made free so more people can access them.

Overseas, rapid tests are plentiful and used regularly by healthy people to ensure they’re not carrying the virus asymptomatically before visiting friends and loved ones. 

There are growing calls for rapid antigen tests to befree to ease the demand on Covid testing sites (pictured in Sydney)

Poll

SHOULD RAPID ANTIGEN TESTS REPLACE PCRs?

  • Yes – they are cheap and easy 124 votes
  • Yes – but only in some circumstances 134 votes
  • No – they are not as accurate 53 votes

The World Health Organisation adviser warned in a series of tweets that rapid tests are becoming reserved for the ‘privileged and wealthy’, saying governments need to rethink their current stance.

‘To reduce cost, test hubs could use PCR on those with symptoms & rapid antigen test (RATs) on all others. Cheaper but still effective,’ Professor McLaws tweeted on Sunday.

‘Without providing free RATs to households, only privileged & wealthy will be able to protect themselves & reduce wider risk of spread.

‘Real leaders can be honest, here is what a real leader could say: case numbers & testing are important, COVID infects within minutes & travels more than 1.5m, long-covid is real & hospital numbers only part of story, gov can supply free RATs & better than PCR three days ago.’

She estimated governments have spent $3.7billion on 54 million PCR tests since early 2020 and called for health workers to take daily RATs before entering hospitals to reduce spread to patients.

A plea to refrain from getting a PCR test unless advised by health officials or are symptomatic has sparked a critical shortage of raid antigen tests (pictured a sign on a Sydney chemist)

A plea to refrain from getting a PCR test unless advised by health officials or are symptomatic has sparked a critical shortage of raid antigen tests (pictured a sign on a Sydney chemist)

WHAT ARE THE 15 RAT KITS APPROVED FOR USE IN AUSTRALIA?

VERY HIGH SENSITIVITY – 95% CLINICALLY SENSITIVE 

All Test Sars-CoV-2 Antigen Rapid Test – (Nasal Swab) – China

Lyher Novel Coronavirus Antigen Test Kit (Nasal Swab) – China

OnSite Covid-19 Ag Self Test (Nasal Swab) – USA

Panbio Covid-19 Antigen Self-Test (Nasal Swab) – Germany

V-Chek Covid-19 Antigen Test (Saliva) – China  

HIGH SENSITIVITY – 90 PER CENT CLINICALLY SENSITIVE 

All Test Covid-19 Antigen Rapid Test (Oral Fluid) – China

Hough Covid-19 Home Test (Nasal Swab) – China

My Covid Test Antigen Rapid Test – (Oral Fluid) – China

Orawell Covid-19 Ag Rapid Test (Saliva) – China

RightSign Covid-19 Antigen Rapid Test Cassette (Nasal Swab) – China

Testsealabs Covid-19 Antigen Test Cassette (Nasal Swab) – China  

ACCEPTABLE SENSITIVITY – 80 PER CENT CLINICALLY SENSITIVE 

Roche Sars-CoV-2 Antigen Self Test (Nasal Swab) – South Korea

InnoScreen Covid-19 Antigen Rapid Test (Nasal Swab) – Australia

Ecotest Covid-19 Antigen Saliva Test kit (saliva) – China

CareStart Covid-19 Antigen Home Test (Nasal Swab) – USA

Professor McLaws’ comments were flooded with comments as many Australians shared their own horror stories of trying to track down RAT tests. 

‘Covid doesn’t discriminate the rich and the poor. If the poor are going to get sick than the privileged & wealthy are also going get infected. However when resources run out it’ll be a battle of the rich vs poor .. young vs elderly,’ one wrote.

Professor McLaws isn’t the only health expert to weigh in on the widespread debate.

Australian Medical Association vice president Dr Chris Moy believes the recent price gouging on RAT tests could have been avoided by the federal government.

‘Response to query re RAT STRATEGY was essentially that they did not feel need to intervene where private market could provide. Now Fed/State/Private blame game over market failure in providing critical tool. So no RAT strategy. Or can I say #noRATegy,’ he tweeted.

Dr Moy agrees with Professor McLaws in that increasing the availability of RAT tests for frontline health workers is critical.

Professor Mary-Louise McLaws (pictured) fears rapid antigen tests could soon only be accessible to the 'privileged and wealthy' unless governments rethink their current stance.

Professor Mary-Louise McLaws (pictured) fears rapid antigen tests could soon only be accessible to the ‘privileged and wealthy’ unless governments rethink their current stance.

She also called on called for testing clinics to use PCR tests on people with Covid symptoms and rapid tests on others.

She also called on called for testing clinics to use PCR tests on people with Covid symptoms and rapid tests on others.

Three months ago, Dr Moy spoke about how critical RAT tests would be as Australia transitioned to ‘living with Covid’.

‘The tests will have a role in how businesses, workplaces and other public environments manage after borders are lifted. Rapid antigen testing is not as accurate as polymerase chain reaction – it generally picks up people when they are most infectious,’ he previously told The Advertiser.

Meanwhile, Grattan Institute’s Health Program Director Stephen Duckett has called for RAT tests to be free.

‘The benefits of my using a RAT fall mostly on others. Economic theory would suggest that the test should be fully subsidised,’ he tweeted. 

He added in a follow-up tweet: ‘Increased mixing over Christmas and New Year, more transmissible variant, who could have predicted more tests might be needed?’

Australian Medical Association vice president Dr Chris Moy has slammed the federal government on its stance regarding the rollout of RAT tests

Australian Medical Association vice president Dr Chris Moy has slammed the federal government on its stance regarding the rollout of RAT tests

Lucy Turnbull, the wife of former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull also believes they should be free.

‘I don’t see a functional difference between PCR test (which are fully subsidised ) and RAT tests. Especially in a major pandemic. Test Trace Isolate and Q needs a robust and widely used testing system. Some highly tests are $12 now. That is a big burden on many,’ she commented on Dr Duckett’s tweet. 

NSW and Victoria have each secured millions of free rapid tests, which will be distributed to the public by the end of January. 

NSW recorded 18,278 new infections on Sunday as Victoria reported 7172 more cases.

A shortage in RAT tests was sparked by long queues for PRC test at testing sites and waiting up to five days for results (pictured, lengthy queue at a testing clinic in Maroubra, Sydney)

A shortage in RAT tests was sparked by long queues for PRC test at testing sites and waiting up to five days for results (pictured, lengthy queue at a testing clinic in Maroubra, Sydney)

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