Shortage of rapid antigen testing due to unexpected Omicron variant, finance minister says

Shortage of rapid antigen testing due to unexpected Omicron variant, finance minister says

The government has been accused of failing to plan for a predicted surge in demand for the rapid tests as the country reopened and the testing regime shifted to the at-home testing kits.

Key points:The Finance Minister says demand for the tests had far exceeded the modellingThe opposition says the government had months of notice to plan for testing demand and failedThe government says test supplies are coming and it plans to offer a discount for concession card holders

Highlights

  • “Obviously, Omicron has once again changed the COVID landscape incredibly significantly,” Mr Birmingham said.

  • Asked whether the government failed to adequately prepare, Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said the Omicron variant had caused a surge in cases far greater than had been modelled.

“We’re responding to that by procuring more rapid antigen tests, by refining the definitions around the necessities of testing and make sure it is targeted to those who most truly need it, and by ensuring that supports will be in place who need financial assistance in accessing rapid antigen tests.” 

“It has … put pressure on testing systems above and beyond Delta-type expectations.

The country’s testing system has struggled with an explosion in COVID cases, even as governments have dropped testing requirements for travellers and less serious exposures to the virus.

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People have been unable to get a timely COVID test and others have given up on trying to get a PCR test altogether after repeatedly being turned away from overcrowded testing sites. As people have turned towards rapid testing, retailers have been drained of supplies of kits, while a handful have sold the tests at massively marked-up prices.

In countries where tests are cheap and readily available, there have been anecdotes of Australians being asked by family members back home to bring handfuls of tests with them when they return. The opposition, unions and community groups have called for the government to make rapid tests free or more affordable and accessible as they replace the PCR regime.

Tests are free in several countries, such as the United Kingdom, where kits can be ordered online to be delivered in the mail. But Mr Morrison has repeatedly refused to make free tests widely available to the public.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese accused the government of failing to prepare for the rise in COVID cases that came with lifting borders and ending lockdowns. “You can’t get access to a PCR test because testing sites are closing and the queues go for six or eight hours,” Mr Albanese said.

Rapid antigen tests, readily available in many countries, are in short supply across Australia.(ABC News: Danielle Bonica)Opposition says government had months to plan for testing Instead, the government is considering discounting tests for concession card holders, to be discussed at a meeting of the national cabinet tomorrow.