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6.6 million Australians eligible for free rapid antigen tests left ‘high and dry’

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Concession card holders are now eligible for 66 million free rapid antigen tests (RATs), but tracking down an elusive kit could remain a problem for weeks until anticipated supplies arrive.

More than six million people such as pensioners, veterans and low-income earners can from Monday access 10 free kits per quarter (limited to no more than five per month).

However Labor’s health spokesman Mark Butler said with massive supply shortages of RATs and the efforts required to track them down in the shops, Australia’s most vulnerable were being left “high and dry”.

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Mr Butler blamed the Morrison Government for a lack of planning which meant the country was still weeks away from receiving much-needed shipments of rapid antigen tests.

Pharmacies are required to source their own supplies rather than being able to access a government stockpile which they said added to the problem.

“Remarkably, Scott Morrison says it’s not his job to supply tests to the pharmacies in the first place,” Mr Butler said.

“Yet again, refusing to take responsibility to deliver his own policy and pretending it’s all someone else’s job.

“Millions of Australia’s pensioners and pharmacies will be left high and dry by another failure by Scott Morrison to just do his job.”

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Health Minister Greg Hunt has said pressures will ease in coming weeks as major pharmacy groups await 16 million RATs to the end of January and another 33 million in February.

“The Commonwealth has provided already over 6.1 million to aged care, and we’re seeing increasing supplies come into the pharmacies and to the supermarkets,” he said on the weekend.

“But it is a global challenge, and I think it’s very important to acknowledge that.”

Meanwhile there were 58 COVID-19 related deaths reported across the country on Sunday.

NSW added 20,324 new virus infections along with 34 virus-related deaths, while in Victoria the case load rose by a further 13,091, and there were 14 deaths.

In Queensland there were 11,947 cases and 10 deaths.

South Australia recorded 2062 new COVID-19 cases, the ACT posted 694 and Western Australia 26, while in the Northern Territory there were 212 new infections.

The nation’s two largest states laid out plans for the upcoming first week of school with rapid antigen tests playing a major role in their similar schemes — plans that Queensland doesn’t want a bar of.

As part of NSW’s long awaited back-to-school plan, teachers and pupils will get two rapid antigen tests per week when they return to classrooms.

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The scheme will run for four weeks, covering the states 3000 primary and secondary schools. Early education and childcare centres will also be included.

Premier Dominic Perrottet said it was the right decision for students to return to face-to-face learning amid the Omicron wave, confirming there would be no school closures.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced a similar strategy, saying 6.6 million RATs would be delivered to schools and early childhood centres across the state before primary and secondary students resume classes on January 31.

In all, 14 million RAT kits will be distributed during the state’s surveillance testing regime, which will be reviewed after four weeks.

However, Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath has ruled out following this plan, saying there was no national health advice to do so.

She said there were limited rapid test supplies in Queensland which were needed for critical essential workers such as in aged care and health.

Federal Labor’s Mark Butler said he was more concerned that only a quarter of five to 11-year-olds have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine just a week before school begins.

-with AAP

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