From next year, you’ll have to get a doctor’s referral if you want a PCR test. It’s just one of many new ways the government is adapting (or abandoning) its COVID-19 health strategy.
Tests are no longer going to be used to monitor COVID case numbers but will instead be designed to give people “quick access” to antiviral treatments. Mental health services, increased during the pandemic, will also be wound up.
The full details of the strategy are yet to be released but the government has said that it will spend $2.8 million on working out its national COVID management plan for next year, with full specs due in January.
Health Minister Mark Butler has said that a nationally consistent approach was agreed to by National Cabinet in September and that the new strategy is designed to take the pressure off the healthcare system while protecting the most vulnerable.
“The National Plan provides clear guidance to the community and health care providers on how the Australian Government will play its part in managing COVID-19 into the future,” he said.
“We will continue to protect those most at risk, while ensuring we have the capacity to respond to future waves and variants.”
Butler said the strategy would see Australia move away from “COVID exceptionalism” and towards treating the illness “in a similar way to other respiratory viruses.”
The changes come in spite of the warning’s given by Chief Medical Officer, Dr Paul Kelly, who has said that Australians should expect “regular” new waves of COVID for at least the next two years. He added that new variants will also likely emerge, although said that their severity could be milder.
“This, combined with improved immunity and hybrid immunity from repeat infections and targeted vaccinations, would reduce the clinical impact and result in fewer Australians suffering severe illness and death,” he said.
No More Free PCR Tests
One of the key changes that the government has revealed is the fact that PCR tests will no longer be accessible to the general public without a GP referral.
“Over the next 12 months, COVID-19 testing requirements will be aligned with testing
arrangements associated with other respiratory illnesses,” the government has laid out in its strategy brief.
The changes come into effect from January 1 of next year while the government has also said that there is “no public health requirement or recommendation for low-risk individuals to seek PCR testing.”
People who aren’t at risk from severe illness, but come into contact with COVID-positive people through work, are still encouraged to take a RAT if they have symptoms. If the RAT is negative, but symptoms persist, then they will be able to get a PCR referral.
High-risk individuals, including elderly people, Indigenous people, and immunocompromised people, “will be prioritised” for PCR testing and treatment with COVID antiviral drugs.