If you’ve been struggling over the past few days or weeks to locate some rapid antigen tests, or ‘RATs’ as they’re otherwise hilariously known, you’re not alone. The federal government have announced that they will be stepping in to attempt to alleviate some of the pure chaos that has been surrounding COVID-19 testing in recent days.
Recalled from holidays, national cabinet is meeting today for an emergency gathering as national COVID case numbers reached 18,000 to discuss clarifying definitions around close contacts and isolation periods. Testing and the delays that have overwhelmed the system recently will also be on the agenda.
Recent reports have emerged of people waiting for hours on end to get a PCR test and experiencing long delays to get their results. In order to combat this, and alleviate pressure on the healthcare system, tens of millions of RATs have been ordered to bolster supply.
On Wednesday, Victoria announced that it had purchased 34 million RATs and would be distributing them for free across the state in a matter of weeks. Victoria’s Health Minister, Martin Foley, took a swipe at the federal government during the announcement, saying that “as per usual, the states have had to step up over the course of this pandemic and fill the gap that’s been left.”
NSW also announced that it had put in an order for 20 million tests, which will also be provided to people free of charge. Their tests are however not expected to arrive until the end of January so looks like we’re stuck in this situation for a while.
The federal government responded with a pledge of $375 million to secure an additional 50 million tests on top of the 10 million it has already acquired. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that states are responsible for securing their own tests but that the additional RATs will be used to meet federal responsibilities which include aged-care homes.
RATs have been selling for more than double their recommended retail price recently, with some suppliers charging as much as $20 per test as people scramble to access them.
Melbourne company Suretest however told The Australian that it had more than enough tests to meet demand and that it could work with up to 14 times more demand if necessary.
“We’ve got factories overseas that we can get access to very large quantities of tests,” company medical director Peter Lewis said. “We can bring in one million kits per week reasonably easily … that’s without struggling.”
The federal government has since warned that it will take “strong, clear, swift” action on price gouging for RATs however opposition leader Anthony Albanese has used the opportunity to slam Morrison over his lack of leadership on the issue.
Albanese accused the PM of once again being “missing in action” while palming off responsibility to the states.
“Scott Morrison and his government are, once again, showing a lack of leadership, consistently passing the buck to state and territory governments,” he said. “Why is it that there’s no issue too big for Scott Morrison to show how small his vision for this country is?”