Changes to COVID testing marked in National Cabinet as states reach record high case numbers

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has convened an emergency meeting of the National Cabinet on Thursday, bringing the planned forum forward by a week as COVID-19 infections skyrocket across the country.

Australia’s political leaders are meeting to redefine a COVID-19 ‘close contact’ and establish parameters for the use of rapid antigen testing.

The move comes as Australia wiped out its previously daily COVID-19 infection record, and as states struggle with test capacity and rising hospital admissions.

There were 18,243 cases of COVID-19 reported across the country on Wednesday.

“We are undergoing a gear shift when it comes to how we manage test events, the definition of close contacts, how we fire staff and isolate people affected by cases,” Mr Morrison told reporters on Wednesday.

Australian leaders meet to establish parameters for the use of rapid antigen testing.
Australian leaders meet to establish parameters for the use of rapid antigen testing. Credit: LUKAS COCH/AAPIMAGE

The close contact definition that will be presented to the National Cabinet will set the threshold for four hours of contact with a positive case within a household setting.

“We just can not get everyone taken out of circulation because they happen to be in a certain place at a certain time,” Mr Morrison said.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the new guidelines focused on “the biggest risk”.

“We’ve seen a long wait for people to get their results,” he said.

“If you honestly have to wait eight hours in a queue and then 72 to 96 hours to get a result, it does not fulfill any useful public health function and it delays proper clinical treatment.”

Changes to test

There will also be a pivot from high dependence on PCR to rapid antigen testing.

Morrison said changes in how close contacts are handled would mean there would be a seven-day quarantine period that would end if the person posts a negative rapid antigen test on day six.

Another rapid antigen test would then be taken on day 12.

Sir. Morrison said the federal government is working on a funding scheme with the states to provide rapid antigen testing for free, but the states will remain responsible for the rollout in the same way as PCR tests.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Scott Morrison says Australia is undergoing a “gear shift” in the handling of COVID-19 as cases increase. Credit: AAP

“In other relaxed settings, it’s a matter of going to the pharmacy,” he said.

Grants for rapid testing have not yet been confirmed.

“The treasurer and I are discussing … favorable access to the private market,” Mr Morrison said.

“When you start delivering tests through other methods, you need to be very aware of where and who.”

Both NSW and Victoria have ordered millions of the tests and have already promised to provide them for free, but they will not be available until the end of January.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has criticized the Prime Minister for handing over responsibility for purchasing tests to states in crisis.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese has criticized the Prime Minister for handing over responsibility for purchasing tests to states in crisis. Credit: Getty Images

Labor leader Anthony Albanese accused the prime minister of sending the money for testing to the states.

“We have the NSW government trying to buy fast antigen tests that will be available, wait for that, at the end of January when we have a crisis right now,” he said.

“We have companies that cannot open.

“We have people waiting day after day to get the results of the tests, and we have some people who simply can not be tested, so they just stay isolated.”

COVID case state by state

Infection rates continue to rise across the country as states and territories report record high cases and Australia faces more than 18,000 cases nationwide.

On Wednesday, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia all saw their biggest daily COVID-19 rise to date.

NSW

There were 11,201 new cases reported in NSW on Wednesday – the highest daily COVID case ever reported by any state or territory in Australia.

Three deaths were reported, including two women, one in the 70s and one in the 90s and one man in the 80s.

VIC

The number of cases rose on Wednesday by 1029 to a record high of 3767, and five deaths were reported.

QLD

Queensland recorded 1589 new cases and no deaths.

TO

In southern Australia, 1,472 new cases and no deaths were recorded.

ACTION

Cases rose by 138 in the ACT.

WA

Western Australia recorded the lowest number on Wednesday with two new cases and no deaths.

TAS

The number of cases increased by 55 in Tasmania.

NT

There were 19 new cases in the Northern Territory.

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