Australia Spilt Over Morrison’s Major Testing Changes

From a firm grasp to Covid chaos


Article heading image for Australia Spilt Over Morrison’s Major Testing Changes

Mick Tsikas/AAP

“We have no choice but to ride the wave. What’s the alternative? What we must do is press on”

So said the Prime Minister, after Wednesday's national cabinet meeting, confirming changes to how we test for the virus.

One change that was agreed upon is that about 6.6 million concession cardholders, would receive 10 free rapid antigen tests over three months. 

Stay up-to-date on the latest news with The National Briefing - keeping you in the loop with news as it hits.

Standing firm on not funding free rapid antigen tests (RAT) for all Australians, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said offering free home-testing kits is “not ... the right policy response”.

Instead, free kits will be restricted to those who hold a Commonwealth seniors health card, a healthcare card, a low-income card, a pension concession card, DVA Gold card or a DVA white card., along with close contacts, people who are symptomatic, health care workers and aged care workers.

“If you are symptomatic or a close contact and you are a concession card holder ... do not go to the pharmacy. Go to the testing centre. We don’t want people who are symptomatic or who are close contacts and may be carrying the virus going into pharmacies,” he said.

Furthermore, the federal government has slashed testing requirements in a bid to ease pressure on testing sites and procedures.

The new rules, now stipulate that people who deliver a positive rapid test will no longer confirm their diagnosis with a PCR test.

"If a person is a close contact and tests positive on a rapid antigen test, they do not need to get a PCR test to confirm a positive rapid antigen test result."

“You will find yourself in the next couple of weeks they will be transitioning where you either get a rapid antigen test provided at that site and you will get your result there and then, within 15 minutes. You won’t have to wait for the test results to come back from the lab,” he said.

“This will take the pressure off the pathology labs which are out there, which will speed up the test results for PCR tests. They are needed for those who are essential to get PCR tests."

“We are looking to move the queues quicker, moving to get results quicker and for those having their rapid antigen tests at a testing centre, it means they... If they have a negative test, they can go home and get on with their life,” Morrison said.

Morrison announced that additional changes will also be applied for people needing hospitalisation or specialist care.

"People seeking treatment at hospitals no longer need to get a PCR Covid-19 test prior to entry."

"They discourage the requirement for people to have tests before receiving even private treatment, even in a surgery where a person is not symptomatic and is not a close contact," he said.

The critical change from PCR to rapid testing does however present a major concern for many medical experts, who say there are already so many Covid cases not  recorded in daily reports, and this will only exponentially increase.

University of Melbourne epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely said surveillance will no longer be accurate.

"The horse has bolted, this is the biggest policy failure so far in Australia," he told the Seven Network on Thursday.

"We also haven't thought about how you can load up that data to the surveillance system, so we won't get that in place in the next couple of weeks."

- Prof Blakely

Instead, experts are calling for the government to roll out an online booking system for home tests sold in Australia to be equipped with a QR code for patients to upload their results, to more accurately reflect infection figures.

In the meantime, the PM urges anybody who tests positive with an at-home kit to contact their GP so their result can be included in official daily tallies.

“That is always your first point of contact when it comes to managing your illness, if you are not in hospital. And your GP would be able to assist you through telehealth if you need to go and get further treatment in hospital,” he said.

In other changes, regular testing for truck drivers has been put to the curb, while international arrivals will no longer be required to produce multiple test results.

Mr Morrison also announced that all states and territories will move towards no longer mandating interstate hotspot travellers to provide a negative RAT result.

The PM also advised the federal government will be provide 10 million RATs to states and territories for testing clinics and home care.

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5 January 2022

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