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Albanese urges RAT stockpiling, COVID ship hits Sydney

Albanese urges RAT stockpiling, COVID ship hits Sydney

Although COVID-19 infections and hospitalisations are on the rise, the federal government is winding up concession cardholders’ access to 10 free rapid antigen tests on July 31, a move doctors say risks adding to the spread of highly infectious new omicron subvariants in Australia.

Older Australians and low-income earners have had access to tests since January. The end of the program comes weeks after federal Labor stopped emergency assistance payments to workers required to isolate due to COVID-19 infections on June 30.

About 80 million test kits were purchased by the federal government amid a crunch in supply during Australia’s summer infection wave.

Mr Albanese blamed the former Morrison government for the end of the free program on Wednesday.

“My government has not made this decision, this is a decision that was inherited from the former government and state governments,” he told ABC radio.

“We inherited a range of positions from the former government and we also inherited a trillion dollars of debt.

“I’d encourage concession cardholders to go and get the 10 free rapid antigen tests that they’re eligible for by the end of this month. There’s still a lot of time to go and do that.”

He said free tests were still available in aged care settings. Free PCR testing sites are still operating around the country.

Opposition spokeswoman Anne Ruston called on Health Minister Mark Butler to release expert advice about the end of the rapid test kit scheme.

Mr Butler said on Tuesday the price of the tests had dropped dramatically, from about $25 per test during shortages in January, to about $8 a test this week.

“To end this program, at a time when we are seeing a massive increase in the number of COVID cases and cost of living pressures are seriously impacting Australians, appears premature.

“Whilst these measures were not intended to be permanent, Mr Butler must outline what expert advice has formed the basis of his decision to end this program.”

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Victorian chair Anita Munozhas said the change was a roadblock for vulnerable people and could reduce testing rates during the winter surge.

“[When] you place barriers in the way of people participating in the public health measures we’re asking for, then they may decide not to participate,” Dr Muñozhas said.

“Some people in the community may decide that it’s not within their budget to purchase RATS and be doing them as frequently as we need them to do.”

The Coral Princess is a sister ship to the Ruby Princess, which was linked to 28 COVID-19 deaths in NSW in 2020.

NSW Health officials have given the ship an amber assessment, indicating a moderate risk.

“While a small number of passengers have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since boarding the Coral Princess, their infections were most likely acquired prior to boarding and they subsequently tested positive,” a statement said.

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