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6 million Australians can access free RATs today as shortages plague rollout

·3-min read
Here's how to access the free RATs. (Source: Getty)
Here's how to access the free RATs. (Source: Getty)

Concession card holders will be able to access free rapid antigen tests (RATs) from pharmacies today, however supplies are expected to be thin until mid-February.

People who hold Commonwealth seniors health cards, healthcare cards, low-income cards, pensioner concession cards, DVA Gold cards and DVA white cards will be able to access 10 free tests over a three-month period and up to five free tests in a single month as Australia battles the latest wave of COVID-19.

Read more about rapid antigen tests:

They can access them by showing participating pharmacies the relevant concession card. The pharmacy will then process the details and hand over the free RATs, before claiming the costs of the test from the Government.

More than 31,660 people tested positive to the respiratory virus on Sunday, however there are hopes NSW and Victoria may be past their peaks.

Supply chain issues as Omicron wreaks havoc

Faced with soaring infection numbers and ballooning wait times for PCR tests, the Government in January announced Australians could use RATs for official COVID-19 diagnosis and to access health and financial support by registering results.

However, supply chain snarls and accusations of price gouging have hampered the effective roll out of rapid testing.

Speaking on Monday morning, however, Health Minister Greg Hunt said there had been “positive reports” from pharmacies and the public about access to the tests.

He said pharmacists participating in the free RATs scheme had been putting tests aside for concession holders.

“​​I spoke to one pharmacy chain CEO yesterday,” Hunt said.

“They were prioritising for early on this week, where they were expecting to have 500 packs of five tests available in the vast majority of their pharmacies, which had been put aside specifically for pensioners, concession-card holders, low-income healthcare card holders and our veterans, and we’re seeing that across the system.

“And so, they’re actually reserving spaces. That’s not to say that every pharmacy on day one is participating. It’s a phased program and, importantly, it's a supplementary program.”

However, pharmacists said they were buckling under the pressure.

“Even though the Federal Government has secured additional RAT stock, supply is still expected to be sparse until mid-February,” Pharmaceutical Society of Australia national president Chris Freeman said.

“In the meantime, our pharmacists are working around the clock to source their own supply of these tests, whilst juggling a huge number of inquiries from patients about stock availability.”

He said pharmacists were handling around four calls every minute about RATs.

“This is simply not sustainable.”

Pharmacy Guild of Australia president Trent Twomey also said there were insufficient tests.

“We don't have enough today," he told the Nine Network.

"There are 6000 community pharmacies in Australia and 804 pharmacies went live this morning. The majority will simply not be going live."

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese also warned people were having extreme difficulty finding RATs.

“In so many communities around Australia, it is easier to catch COVID than it is to catch a RAT,” he said.

However, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said Australians also needed to shoulder part of the blame for hoarding tests.

“I’m blaming the fact that we have a virus out there, that people have been buying not what they require but more than they need,” he told the ABC on Monday morning.

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