MPs demand free rapid tests as COVID surge continues

David Harris MP, Shadow Minister for the Central Coast

The push for making Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) free for all and procuring more supplies for the Central Coast has ramped up, with reporting positive results now mandatory through Service NSW and a $1,000 fine in play for failure to report.

However, Shadow Minister for the Central Coast David Harris says the NSW and Federal Governments must not only find a way to supply free RAT tests, but properly educate GPs in the procedures to follow when their patients contact them for help.

Harris said the State Government was “caught with its pants down”, underprepared for the increase in cases and for logistical considerations during the holiday period and needed to restore the community’s confidence that the pandemic is being handled in the best possible way.

“Lack of PCR testing facilities, access to rapid antigen tests, rules around isolation and supply chain issues have plagued the Christmas period and continue to cause problems, even as we approach a planned return to school,” Harris said.

“The Christmas holiday period saw many private testing facilities close for the holidays creating huge queues and uncertainty at a time when Omicron was causing a huge increase in cases.

“Access to Rapid Antigen Tests has been difficult with low supplies and high prices impacting on the community’s ability to follow government advice about self-testing, leading to businesses and families being adversely impacted.”

Harris said a recent announcement by the Federal Government of free tests for some concession card holders had been badly planned, with pharmacies finding out that they are responsible for sourcing the tests, including paying high prices up front and then finding out that they have to seek reimbursement from a system that has not yet been developed.

With students returning to school at the end of the month, there was also a lack of vaccine supply for children with many pharmacies and GPs having to cancel appointments because promised stocks have not arrived, he said.

“The community’s confidence in both the NSW Government and the Australian Government response to COVID is being undermined because of a chaotic approach since November, with both levels of government scrambling to react to the reality on the ground being experienced by communities including the Central Coast,” Harris said.

“People are trying their hardest to be responsible and follow the rules but the basic infrastructure needed to comply either doesn’t exist, is too hard to access or doesn’t work and this is adding to the stress families are already feeling with sickness spreading through their loved ones.”

Member for Dobell, Emma McBride, was also critical of the lack of availability of RATs on the Coast.

“Despite having months to prepare for this latest COVID-19 outbreak, the Prime Minister has failed to shore up supply of Rapid Antigen Tests for people on the Central Coast,” she said.

“With COVID-19 cases soaring across NSW and testing clinics being overrun, locals have no choice but to pay top dollar for a RAT, if they can find one.

“This Government has a responsibility to secure more Rapid Antigen Tests for our community, but they’ve been too slow to act once again.

“We’re seeing supermarket shelves stripped bare, pharmacies running out of tests and vulnerable Coasties being forced to pay outrageous prices for a simple swab.”

While welcoming news that concession card holders will now be given free RATs, McBride said they should be free and accessible for all Australians.

“PCR tests are free for everyone through Medicare, RATs should be too,” she said.

She said the Government should have worked with pharmacies to secure supply before making the announcement about free tests for concession card holders.

She said pharmacies were unlikely to receive stock before the free tests are made available in the next two weeks.

Parliamentary Secretary for the Central Coast Adam Crouch acknowledged the frustration felt by many across the Central Coast due to having limited testing labs open to the public during the Christmas and New Year period.

“Testing capacities across the Central Coast and broader NSW are currently under pressure,” he said.

“To assist in reducing this, the only people getting a PCR should be those who: have COVID-19 symptoms; live in a household with a confirmed COVID-19 positive case; or have been in a venue where NSW Health has advised there has been high transmission.

“Whilst I apologise for the delays, it is important to remember that the NSW Government has no jurisdiction over whether or not private testing clinics are open.

“The state-run COVID-19 testing labs at Gosford and Wyong Hospitals remained open over the busy holiday period.

“To help ease the pressure on testing labs, NSW residents who return a positive rapid antigen test will no longer be required to obtain a PCR test prior to going into isolation.”

Crouch said the mandatory reporting of positive RAT test results would allow case numbers to be monitored and enable the Government to plan and allocate health resources where required.

Terry Collins