New South Wales recorded 2,566 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, and with Christmas just days away, unions, politicians and business owners are calling for rapid antigen (RA) tests to be made free.
The tests, which are sold at supermarkets and pharmacies, range in price from around $10-$15 per test and offer results within 15 minutes.
“The Government should be providing these for free,” federal Labor MP and member for Macquarie Susan Templeton said on Monday.
"They should be free for aged care, for disability, and they should be free for you too.
“This is the best tool we have to give another layer of protection with this Omicron virus. Other countries give them to people for free.”
The UK rolled out free twice-weekly tests in April 2021, as it prepared to reopen, while parts of Canada also offered free RA tests.
Western Sydney business spends $40,000 on tests for staff
Scott Huntsman, CEO of personal-protective equipment and mask manufacturer ALL CAST PPE, said Australia needed a similar initiative.
The Western Sydney business owner believed he’d spent between $30,000 and $40,000 on providing RA tests for staff, who also needed to take a standard PCR test every three days.
“Blood tests and everything like that are covered by Medicare and private health insurance, so these things should be covered as well,” he told Yahoo Finance.
“We’re being asked to be tested, we should almost be doing rapid testing daily, what with all the case numbers.”
He said Sydneysiders and business owners wanted to be diligent, and the best way to achieve that was to have access to free stock.
“Obviously the PCR testing has been labeled the gold star of testing … but on top of that, if you were to get a positive or inconclusive test result [from an RA test], you’re more inclined to get that PCR test to make sure you are not positive,” he said.
“If you are given some early indication, you are able to take those steps of isolating from people.
“It’s another layer of protection.”
UNSW professor of epidemiology Mary-Louise McLaws also described free RA tests as “essential”, while the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) questioned why RA tests weren’t free in Australia.
“RA tests are an effective tool for keeping workplaces and the community safe,” ACTU acting secretary Liam O’Brien told Yahoo Finance.
He said PCR testing sites were being “overwhelmed” as the Omicron variant spread throughout large parts of the country.
“To not risk a huge surge in cases, particularly heading into this time of the year and dealing with the emergence of Omicron, now is the time for the Morrison Government to make sure rapid antigen testing kits are widely available for all Australians,” O’Brien said.
Victorians, who are required to take a standard test because they are deemed a workplace or education contact, can access five free RA tests from the testing centre, however other jurisdictions like western and southern Australia have not approved the use of RA tests.