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Scott Morrison rules out free rapid antigen tests as demand surges

Scott Morrison has said making rapid antigen tests free would 'undercut' retailers. Photo: Facebook/Scott Morrison.

By TOKS OGUNDARE

Prime Minister Scott Morrison again pushed back against calls to make free rapid antigen tests widely available, as COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalisations continue to rise.

“We’re now in a stage of the pandemic where you can’t just go around making everything free,” Mr Morrison told Sunrise today.

Currently, only people who fall under the new close contact rules can access a free test. The federal government has agreed to fund half the costs of rapid tests which have been purchased by the states to be supplied to people identified as close contacts.

On Thursday, Sydney resident Anne-Marie Mannil told ABC News she paid her local pharmacy $25 for a single test in a zip-lock bag, which appeared to have been removed from its original box packaging. A few weeks prior she had been able to buy a five-pack rapid antigen test kit for $50. 

With some people waiting hours to get a PCR test and several days for a result, rapid antigen tests have become crucial in identifying and curbing COVID-19 infections.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said there was a “very considerable supply” of rapid antigen tests, noting that the government has secured 10 million tests and is in the process of ordering another $370 million worth of tests. 

Mr Hunt told Australians to focus on other aspects of health, urging people to “catch up” on their regular screenings.

Australian Medical Association Vice President Dr Chris Moy told the AAP the system was “struggling” with staff shortages as case numbers rise. New South Wales has recorded a jump in COVID-19 patients in hospital with 1204 being treated, up 138 from yesterday. 

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