Calls for free rapid antigen tests ramp up
15 February 2022 at 8:06 am
The cost of rapid antigen tests is forcing vulnerable people to hide at home and in some cases miss a meal, advocates warn
Charities, community health groups and unions are ramping up the fight to make rapid antigen tests free, arguing the current distribution model which relies on private retail sales is “not fit for purpose”.
In a joint statement, released on Monday, the group pleaded for free and accessible rapid antigen tests (RATs) to be made available for the entire community, rather than just tax deductions for COVID tests, which the Morrison government announced last week.
They said that the move to large scale RAT testing had been beset with problems including reliance on market forces to ration inadequate supply, slow delivery, the PCR testing system collapsing under the weight of overwhelming demand, and price gouging from elements of the retail distribution network.
The groups, which include the Australian Council for Social Services (ACOSS), Australian Council of Trade Unions, Oxfam Australia, and Mission Australia, also argued the existing concessional access scheme – which provides up to 10 free RATs over three months to eligible recipients and is loss-making for some pharmacists – had not done enough to allow all Australians to access tests when they need them.
Dr Cassandra Goldie, the CEO of ACOSS, told Pro Bono News that for many, the decision to buy a RAT was one that meant serious sacrifices.
“For many the decision to buy a RAT means a missed meal or a bill that can’t be paid on time – those are real time decisions which cannot be put off,” Goldie said.
She said that people who have the least were once again bearing the brunt of the pandemic.
“The government’s announcement last week to give tax deductions for COVID tests gives greater assistance to those on higher incomes who can purchase unlimited supplies at top dollar,” she said.
The group also criticised the government’s decision to make National Disability Insurance Scheme participants use their core funding to purchase RATs for themselves and their support workers.
The groups said that this was unacceptable.
“Free and accessible RATs for all are needed to limit the spread and keep the whole community safe – not just those who can afford to pay,” the joint statement said.
“The Australian government must act urgently to provide free and accessible RATs to keep our community safe from this virus.”
As well as the joint statement, the ACTU delivered a petition to parliament, signed by more than 150,000 Australia also calling for the government to provide free tests to the community.
“The UK and US governments have already acted to make rapid covid tests free and accessible to their citizens, once again Scott Morrison is leaving Australia behind,” the petition said.
“Right now, a single test can cost up to $20, if you’re lucky enough to find a chemist that still has them. That’s $100 for a family of five. That might be small change to the prime minister, but it’s out of reach for many families.”