Doctors reveal they have warned Australian governments to ensure rapid antigen testing | Health

Australia’s top doctors’ body has revealed it had warned governments to ensure rapid antigen testing as they began planning to open the country, after Scott Morrison described the scarce screening tool as a “precious commodity”.

With new allegations that the protracted PCR testing system was “crumbling” as the country registered more than 18,000 daily Covid cases for the first time, Australians stood in line at pharmacies to try to buy rapid antigen tests (RATs) .

Some state governments on Wednesday accused the federal government of not “stepping up” to “fill the gap” by failing to provide more supplies of the vital screening tool, while Morrison convened a quick national cabinet meeting on Thursday to discuss the sharp rise in cases powered by the Omicron variant.

Dr. Chris Moy, Vice President of the Australian Medical Association, said the community needed access to RATs and clear, simple instructions on when to use them. “Right now we have none of the parts,” he said Wednesday.

That was despite previous warnings from the AMA. Moy said that when governments began planning to open up, “asked and advocated the organization for a clear plan to ensure access for RATs and clear policies for their use, for this very time, which was predicted”.

Moy said Australia was now facing a critical time as people struggled to access RATs and the long-standing PCR testing system was “crumbling”.

Small businesses have said many have had to close during the summer vacation period because state and federal governments have not introduced free RATs.

Morrison spoke to journalists in Sydney on Wednesday – the first time the prime minister has held a press conference in a week – and insisted that the federal government “fulfilled our responsibilities”.

He said he welcomed announcements from New South Wales and Victorian governments to procure RATs, and said sharply, “It’s their job and I’m glad they do.

“Where a RAT test would now be required instead of a PCR test, the state governments are, as always, responsible for securing these RAT tests, and giving them directly to the people, and we will share the cost of the 50-50 with the state government. , said the Prime Minister.

Morrison said the federal government was responsible for tests in geriatric care centers and certain other high-risk environments. He said the federal government had been “on the market” for RATs since August, with four million tests already delivered, and “another six million arriving very soon”.

Morrison said he had also set aside an additional $ 375m “to provide additional RAT tests to be part of the national stock,” primarily used to cover the federal government’s responsibility to directly deliver tests.

Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese went on the offensive, saying Morrison presided over a trying “crisis” and “again showed a lack of leadership, consistently passing the money on to states and territories”.

“Everything he does is characterized by being too little, too late,” Albanese said.

Referring to Morrison’s previous comments that the vaccine rollout is not a race, Albanese added: “Now he says with the rapid antigen tests that not only is it not a race, they are not even on the field at all. They leave it entirely to the states . ”

Labor health spokesman Mark Butler said RATs were “widespread and readily available and very affordable” in other countries, but pharmacists in Australia reported shortages.

Butler urged Morrison to “quickly secure a large stock of rapid tests that can be used by companies and members of the Australian community right now”.

“Again, Scott Morrison has left Australians dangerously vulnerable and at the back of the queue,” Butler said.

The Victorian government announced on Wednesday that it had secured 34 million RATs to be distributed free of charge by the end of January.

State Health Minister Martin Foley said Victoria “would very much prefer to have a national approach to what is the national actual and international supply issue”.

“But if that does not work, the states have, as usual, had to step in during this pandemic and fill the gap left,” Foley said.

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The NSW government also announced this week that it had placed an order for 20 million rapid antigen tests, which were expected to arrive in late January. An additional order of DKK 30 million. was announced Wednesday.

The federal health ministry said the government had purchased more than 10 million RATs for use in geriatric care centers and it would “shortly” purchase an additional 50 million for the national medical stock.

A spokesman for the department said more than 2.8 million RATs had so far been delivered to geriatric care facilities, including 1,650,014 tests for NSW facilities and 1,284,341 for Victorian facilities, the states where the majority of transmission has taken place.

Australia reported more than 18,200 new Covid cases on Wednesday – a new record for the country – including 11,201 in NSW, 3,767 in Victoria, 1,539 cases in Queensland and 1,471 in South Australia.

Morrison returns from Sydney to Canberra for a meeting with state and territory leaders on Thursday. The National Cabinet was not scheduled to meet until next week.

Morrison said the country is “undergoing a gear shift” in its approach to Covid. He said with the Omicron variant that the problem was not “the large amount of cases”, but the incidence of serious illness and the impact on the hospital system.

He said there were currently 1,314 people in the hospital, including 126 in intensive care and 55 in respirators – suggesting that there was “real capacity in our hospital system to deal with the challenges we currently face”.

Morrison said Thursday’s national government meeting would discuss a proposal by the federal government to narrow the definition of close contact: someone who lives with a confirmed Covid case “and has spent more than four hours with them.” The proposed definition will also include persons living with confirmed cases in care settings.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) said just before Christmas that health authorities should consider “more widespread use” of rapid antigen testing.

“This may lead to a requirement in the future to rely more on other handles, including the use of indoor mask and strategic use of rapid antigen testing, to control transmission and impacts, especially in high-risk environments,” the AHPPC said on December 22.

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