Shortages plague concessional RAT rollout, as call made for royal commission into handling of COVID-19

The federal government's concessional access to COVID-19 rapid antigen tests has begun, but pharmacists say supply shortages could delay the rollout.

A COVID-19 testing center is seen at The Gold Coast University hospital, Southport Friday, January 21, 2022. Tents are going up at hospitals in Queensland to keep up with the strain on the health system. (AAP Image/Jono Searle) NO ARCHIVING

Senator Hanson's call came after another grim day with 58 COVID-19 related deaths reported across the country on Sunday. Source: AAP

Pharmacists have warned supply shortages will impact the rollout of the federal government's COVID-19 rapid antigen test concession scheme.

President of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia Trent Twomey says there will be enough tests over the course of the program, which begins on Monday, but supply is constrained at the moment.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said the shortage has been exacerbated by people and large companies hoarding tests.

Mr Twomey told the Nine Network: "We don't have enough today.

"There are 6,000 community pharmacies in Australia and 804 pharmacies went live this morning. The majority will simply not be going live."

Signage notifying customers that Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) kits are sold out.
Signage notifying customers that Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) kits are sold out. Source: AAP

Mr Twomey says there are 13 million tests arriving in the next week and 22 million in the first three weeks of February just for pharmacies.

"But, like with everything in this pandemic, we are competing with supply chain shortages of rapid antigen tests not just in the UK and the US but here in Australia," he said.

"The bigger boys are getting stock before the smaller guys. We can't get enough stock for all pharmacies for all of those 6.6 million Australians that have (concession cards)."

Some pharmacies are also waiting for prices to drop before joining the scheme, with the government reimbursing pharmacies $10 per test.

"The prices are high at the moment," Mr Twomey said.

"Some pharmacies ... need to wait for their new shipments to arrive, which will see the price drop so they can afford to participate."

The government has again defended their rollout of the concessional scheme, with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg saying every country is suffering from supply chain issues with regards to the tests.

"There's great demand for these rapid antigen tests right around the country and here in Australia we've got more than 200 million on offer," he told the ABC on Monday.

"The good news is more are coming online with millions arriving into the state and through the federal government."

Suggesting hoarding was adding to the problems, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said: "It's definitely been a factor.

"You can't be Nostradamus, it's not like we weren't bringing them in. The whole world is having issues with rapid antigen tests."

There has been a scarcity in supply of rapid antigen tests.
There has been a scarcity in supply of rapid antigen tests. Source: AAP

It comes amid calls by One Nation leader Pauline Hanson for a royal commission into how Australia's governments have handled the COVID-19 pandemic.

The One Nation leader said whichever party forms government after this year's federal election there should be an honest and thorough examination of how all governments - federal, state and territory - managed the crisis.

She said the pandemic has affected every Australian in some way with people dying, workers losing their jobs, individual rights and freedoms being restricted and unelected bureaucrats wielding "extraordinary power".

"We need a royal commission, not to lay blame or find scapegoats - the buck will always stop with the prime minister and state and territory leaders, as it must in a representative democracy," she said.

"But primarily to learn which pandemic measures worked and which didn't so we are much better prepared for the next pandemic. Because as sure as the sun rises every day, there will inevitably be another pandemic."

Senator Hanson's call came after another grim day with 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 caseload rose by a further 13,091, and there were 14 deaths.

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

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.

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.

The scheme will run for four weeks, covering the states 3,000 primary and secondary schools. Early education and childcare centres will also be included.

Premier Dominic Perrottet said it is 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 will be delivered to schools and early childhood centres across the state before primary and secondary students resume classes on 31 January.

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 health spokesman Mark Butler is more concerned that only one-in-four, five to 11-year-olds have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine just a week before school begins.

Meanwhile, South Australia recorded 2,062 new COVID-19 cases, the ACT posted 694 and Western Australia 26, while in the Northern Territory there were 212 new infections.

5 min read
Published 24 January 2022 at 6:02am
Source: AAP, SBS