Scott Morrison insists it is the responsibility of state governments to secure Covid-19 testing kits while Australians queue all day just to get a swab.
The prime minister, at his first press conference since December 22, deflected responsibility for the impossible lines and 100-hour processing times.
‘State governments are responsible for securing PCR tests, or the supplies that go with those tests, the arrangements that go with the conducting of them, and the Commonwealth shares those costs 50/50,’ he said.
Mr Morrison said the same was true for rapid antigen tests, which state governments are ramping up to use despite them being sold out almost everywhere.
‘Where a RAT test is required, state governments as always are responsible for securing the RAT tests, providing them to people, and we’ll share the cost 50/50 with the state government,’ he said.
Scott Morrison says it is the responsibility of state governments to secure Covid-19 testing kits while Australians around the country queue for several hours just to get a swab
He said though the federal government supplied tests for residential aged care facilities and other high-risk locations, it was left in the hands of state premiers to order enough supplies for everywhere else.
The prime minister said the Commonwealth already secured four million tests with another six million on their way.
His comments were little help to thousands around the country turning out to get tested amid the ongoing Omicron surge.
Residents in NSW reported having to queue up for seven hours to get swabbed, only to then have to wait up to five days for their results to come back in.
Others trying their luck at rapid tests in pharmacies have left empty-handed due to limited supply.
The Victorian Government secured 34 million rapid antigen tests that will be available to residents fore free by the end of January.
Health Minister Martin Foley took a not-so-subtle dig at the federal government when announcing the plan.
‘We would much prefer to have a national approach to what is a national, indeed an international, supply issue, buy failing that, as per usual, the states have had to step up over the course of this pandemic and fill the gap left,’ he said.
‘Rapid antigen tests should be free, and we will be making them free.’
Australians have reported incredible wait times while trying to get a Covid test, while rapid antigen tests are selling out quickly
How the tests will be distributed is still being worked out.
The state is already handing out free rapid tests in some circumstances, including to students and staff exposed at schools.
NSW has ordered 20 million tests but they won’t arrive until February, sparking anger from the Labor Opposition.
Premier Dominic Perrottet announced on Wednesday he will order an additional 30 million tests.
The need for rapid tests became urgent as testing queues in Melbourne and Sydney stretched to five hours over the past week due to Queensland’s entry test requirements, clinic closures, and more people wanting a negative result before visiting family over the Christmas holidays.
‘It is easier to get a ticket to the AFL grand final than get a test in some parts of Australia,’ Labor leader Anthony Albanese said on Wednesday.
‘Yet again, we’ve seen state governments having to fill a vacuum left by Scott Morrison who has gone missing in the fight against this critical fourth wave.
‘State and territory governments have stepped up in the absence of Commonwealth leadership. But when we talk about purchasing of rapid antigen tests from overseas, it clearly is a federal government responsibility.’
Sydneysiders are seen lining up outside a Covid testing clinic on Tuesday
Speaking outside Kirribilli House on Wednesday, Mr Morrison also revealed there would be major changes to isolation requirements and how close contacts are defined.
The prime minister will meet the state premiers in an early National Cabinet on Thursday after Australia recorded more than 18,000 cases due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
Mr Morrison said he wanted a new national definition of a close contact as someone who has spent at least four hours in a household or a care facility with a positive case.
He also said a close contact should be released from isolation after seven days with a negative antigen test on day six and again on day 12.
‘We just can’t have everybody just being taken out of circulation because they just happen to be at a particular place at a particular time,’ he said.
‘It is important that we move to a new definition of close contact that enables Australia to keep moving, for people to get on with their lives.’
Casual contacts would ‘just have to monitor your symptoms’ but won’t have to ‘ rush off and get in a long queue.’
This model is already in play in NSW but the difference would be that rapid tests can be used instead of PCR tests.
However, Mr Morrison admitted that not all states would want to adopt this, saying: ‘We have learnt right across the pandemic that all states are at different stages.’
By 9.20am on Wednesday more than 20 testing sites across the Melbourne metropolitan area had been closed after reaching capacity