“This is a public policy failure the likes of which we haven’t seen in this country before. It’s on Scott Morrison’s watch.”
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said it was “common sense” to limit supplies of free rapid antigen tests. State and federal governments had bought millions of test kits and there was capacity for individuals or businesses to buy tests through the private market, he said.
“If there were no constraints on that, then people would go down and take crates and boxes away,” he said.
National cabinet agreed in November to work on an Australian guideline for the use of rapid antigen tests, including in vulnerable populations such as Indigenous communities and in schools.
Mr Hunt said that plan was still being worked out and would be discussed at national cabinet again on Wednesday.
Epidemiologist and public health medicine specialist Professor Tony Blakely said Australia needed certainty as soon as possible.
“I find it astounding that we didn’t have the plans ready to go for all of this,” he said. “We’ve been talking about the need for mass rapid antigen testing … for six months or more, with huge consensus from everybody that this is going to be critical to stopping lockdowns in the next phase of the pandemic.”
The Grattan Institute’s director of health and aged care, Dr Stephen Duckett, said the federal government had been too slow to approve and order rapid antigen tests and was yet to adequately think about how they fit into public health testing.
Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said he hoped the Commonwealth would provide the state with half of all rapid antigen tests that the government would provide for free.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she would ask for clarity at Wednesday’s meeting about who could access the subsidised tests, saying she thought national cabinet had agreed to support people on healthcare cards and pensioners.
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