New South Wales will offer free COVID-19 rapid antigen tests in a bid to reduce huge queues at testing clinics.
The state government on Thursday afternoon urged residents without symptoms or close exposure to a confirmed COVID-19 test to avoid joining queues and instead take rapid at-home tests.
The state recorded 5,715 new cases in the 24 hours to 8pm Wednesday, with more than 160,000 PCR tests conducted over that period.
Calling on asymptomatic people to avoid extending testing queues, Premier Dominic Perrottet said the state will provide rapid antigen testing “into next year”.
“We see this as crucial as we move through this next part of the pandemic. We need to move away from PCR testing and make sure we drive personal responsibility … we will play our role here,” Perrottet said.
“I've tasked the Investment Minister, Health Minister and the Finance Minister to work towards providing free rapid antigen testing for people right across our state.”
He said this will help people who are looking for peace of mind before visiting someone who is elderly or immunocompromised, or otherwise in a high-risk setting.
When and where will the rapid antigen tests be provided?
The tests will likely be provided at vaccination centres, pharmacists and GPs, Perrottet added, with expectations they will be available from January through to March as people receive their booster shots.
The government is working with Service NSW to devise the best way to roll out the free tests.
“As we move into this next phase of the pandemic, you simply take a test at home, if it's negative, that will provide confidence in the system and confidence to you that you're COVID-free and able to go out and visit your loved ones, and visit high-risk settings as we move into next year,” Perrottet said.
In the interim, Health Minister Brad Hazzard called on residents to use rapid antigen tests if they don’t have symptoms, and haven’t been instructed by NSW Health to get a test.
“[The high testing volumes] is sucking the energy out of all the front-line pathology workers, the people who are doing it, doing the tests, people who are then doing the pathology examinations, the administration, people who are sending the details out,” Hazzard said.
“I would ask everybody to listen very carefully to the message that if you don't need to go, if you haven't got symptoms or haven't received a message telling you that you must have a PCR test, probably you don't need to have a PCR test.”