Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said the Australian Government has no plans to provide free rapid antigen tests as new COVID-19 cases tip 32,000 across the country.
The NSW and Victorian state governments have committed to providing free rapid testing as queues for PCR tests blow out. However, speaking on Monday, Morrison said the Government “can't just go around making everything free”.
“We're at another stage of this pandemic now where we just can't go around and make everything free,” he told Sunrise.
“We have to live with this virus. This isn't a medicine, it's a test. And so there's a difference between those two things.
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“They are available at $15 and we are working on arrangements - as I flagged two weeks ago - for concessional access to those who are pensioners and others.”
Speaking to the Today Show, Morrison added that the Government wanted to preserve retailers' bottom lines by not making the rapid tests free.
"By making that policy very, very clear, then that means the private market, whether it's in the big warehouse pharmacies or the other pharmacies or the supermarkets, they can now go and stock their shelves with confidence that they won't be undercut by the Government," he said.
The Federal Government last week announced it would provide free tests for people working and living in high-risk settings like aged care and for close contacts.
However, claims of price gouging at pharmacists have heaped pressure on the Government to make the free tests widely available across all settings.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese described the lack of availability and affordability as “not good enough”.
"Certainly, no one should be excluded from getting a rapid antigen test because of their income,” he said.
“That means that, at the very least, people who can't afford one should be able to get one and should be given one.”
The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) has also called on the Government to provide free rapid testing kits for people receiving social security payments.
ACOSS president Peter McNamara noted that a five-test kit could cost up to $70, which many on JobSeeker could not afford.
“It is irresponsible and callous of the Federal Government to fail to make provision for up to 3 million people already struggling to survive below the poverty line,” McNamara said.
“Especially when we have evidence that people living in the lowest socioeconomic groups have experienced almost four times as many COVID-19 deaths as people in the highest income group.
“We know that the hardest hit by COVID-19 and all variants are people who are homeless, people with disabilities, First Nations people - especially those who live remotely - the elderly, single-parent households, people on JobSeeker - $45 a day - and young people on Youth Allowance - just $36 a day.”