Saturday, August 13th, 2022

NSW and Victoria unable to explain how Covid rapid antigen tests will be distributed to vulnerable | New South Wales

The Victorian and New South Wales governments are scrambling to organise the distribution of rapid antigen tests to vulnerable people amid short supply, confusion over who should use them and skyrocketing Covid case numbers.

Amid a national shortage of the tests, both governments said they were working out how best to distribute tens of millions of kits they have ordered, most of which will not arrive until the end of January.

NSW and Victoria have watered down previous commitments to provide free tests after a national cabinet meeting with the federal government on Thursday.

Adding to the confusion, on Friday morning the prime minister, Scott Morrison, issued a statement removing a requirement that confirmed Covid cases who are in isolation but don’t have symptoms take a test on the sixth day.

This directly contradicted statements, also made on Friday, by the NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, and Victoria’s health minister, Martin Foley, that a day-six rapid test was required.

The confusion unfolded as prominent Sydney charity worker the Rev Bill Crews warned that lessons from two years of the pandemic had not been learned, and the poorest and most vulnerable members of the community were being left behind.

Crews, whose eponymous foundation distributes meals and runs a healthcare clinic, said the people his charity worked with were “like Petri dishes who’ll spread it”.

“Our people are the most vulnerable and we have to look after them, and I would have expected them to be on some sort of priority list, at least equal to aged care, but they seem to be the forgotten people,” he said.

Authorities in NSW and Victoria were not able to explain how their test stockpiles would be allocated and distributed.

In NSW, where cases almost doubled on Friday for the third day running, jumping from 12,226 to 21,151, the premier, Dominic Perrottet, said he expected the “main set” of 50m of rapid antigen tests his government had ordered to arrive in mid-January.

“There is a place I would say, definitely, for the state to be providing rapid antigen tests, for returning travellers into Sydney,” Perrottet said.

“In addition to that, we want to make sure vulnerable people – vulnerable and disadvantaged communities – have access to rapid antigen tests.

“We’re working through, currently, the distribution and the cohorts which we believe that those rapid antigen tests will be provided [to].”

In Victoria, where Covid cases increased from 5,137 to 5,919 on Friday, the health minister, Martin Foley, said there was “a national shortage of rapid antigen tests”.

“I acknowledge that, whether it’s in the government procurement or in the private market.”

Foley said Victoria had taken “urgent measures” to buy 34m kits, which are to be delivered “in coming days and weeks”.

“Victorians have come to, I think rightly, see testing as a key part of the ongoing public health response,” he said.

“Free testing is a critical part of that. But at the moment we are really facing some challenges right across the country.”

Covid commander Jeroen Weimar said distribution details for the government’s rapid antigen testing kits would be announced soon.

“In the coming days we’ll be making more announcements around how we allocate those and shoot those through our testing centres,” he said.

Crews said his charity needed 500 tests a week to keep his workers safe.

“We’re frontline, all of our volunteers are on the frontline, everything,” he said.

“We’ve spent so far nearly $20,000 on rapid antigen tests, which could have gone into meals.

“We’re getting no help at all. I’m saying: what do you want us to spend the money on – rapid testing or feeding the homeless?

“The rich have been able to stockpile these, because they’re able to pay any price for them, but the people we work with can’t – and we can’t stockpile them either.

“Nobody seems to have learned anything – the poor, the homeless and the most vulnerable are still at the bottom of the heap.”

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