Prime Minister Scott Morrison continues to resist pressure to make free rapid antigenic testing for COVID-19 widely available, as state testing regimes twist and rapid testing remains scarce.
- Scott Morrison says providing free rapid test kits would undermine retailers
- 84 million rapid tests have been ordered by state governments, partly funded by the Commonwealth
- Morrison says government will not pay to make free tests more widely available
Earlier this week, Mr Morrison said the federal government would not provide free RAT kits, even if the country shifts from PCR testing to a mixed approach.
Instead, the federal government agreed to fund half the costs of rapid tests that were purchased by states to be distributed free of charge to people identified as close contacts.
But the prime minister said anyone else who wants a test will have to buy their own, although it can be difficult, with many pharmacists and other outlets running out of supplies.
Today, Mr Morrison reiterated that the government cannot continue spending on COVID-19 as it has over the past two years.
“We have invested hundreds of billions of dollars to help Australia get through this crisis,” he said.
But Labor has slammed the government’s approach to testing as COVID-19 cases have exploded, saying people go undiagnosed because they cannot get PCR results in a timely manner and cannot find a rapid test kit.
“With months and months to prepare, from a pandemic that has lasted for two years, it is incredible that the government has told people not to go get tested, but to test themselves with a rapid test of ‘antigen that is not available, and is not affordable, “said opposition leader Anthony Albanese.
Mr Albanese said the consequences would be “catastrophic” if the rapid tests were not available for free.
“They shouldn’t be billed to people who can get them… people who can’t afford them should get them. It’s the truth,” Albanese said.
“[The Prime Minister] was wrong not to prepare for having rapid antigenic tests fully available. “
Mr. Morrison replied that Mr. Albanese was “always full of complaints after the fact”.
He said companies needed to be convinced that they would not be “undermined” by free testing regimes.
“By making this policy very, very clear, it means that the private market, whether it’s in the big warehouse pharmacies or other pharmacies or supermarkets, they can now go and store their shelves with the confidence that they will not be undermined by the government, ”Mr. Morrison said.
The federal government is considering whether to cut back on rapid testing for concession card holders, which will be discussed at a national cabinet meeting with state and territory leaders on Wednesday.
Testing has been made free to the public in other countries, such as the UK, where people can order free kits to be delivered by post.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said there have been 55 million PCR tests during the pandemic and state governments have now obtained 84 million rapid tests.
He said there will be more than 100 million tests ready over the next two months.
“The idea that (…) an infinite amount would be distributed, the opposition point of view that they ran when trying to shop, is sheer folly that would divert resources from those in need”, Mr Hunt said.
“Let’s be clear, through the health process, for health reasons, these tests are free.”
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