National cabinet has agreed to extend the availability of free rapid antigen tests to some Australians, but supply shortages remain a serious issue across the country.
Starting in the next two weeks, concession card holders will join close contacts on the list of people who can get their hands on free RATs.
But the rules differ between the two groups, and others will still have to pay for the tests, which remain hard to come by on pharmacy shelves.
Who can get a free rapid antigen test?
There are two main groups of people who can access rapid antigen tests for free:
- Concession card holders
- People required to get a test, either because they are a close contact or they are symptomatic and their testing centre gives them a RAT rather than a PCR swab
However the two groups access their free tests under different rules.
Under the new scheme, concession card holders will be able to access up to 10 free RATs over the course of three months, at a maximum of five in a single month.
The tests will be free for people who hold a:
- Pension concession card
- Commonwealth seniors healthcare card
- DVA gold, white or orange card
- Health care card
- Low income card
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that covered 6.6 million Australians.
The free tests will be available at pharmacies in the next fortnight.
“You would go along to the chemist, they will give you one and then they will take your details,” Mr Morrison said.
“They will obviously get your concession card details … and there will be a rebate system that works back to the pharmacy.”
If you’re a close contact, you are required to get a rapid antigen test on day 6 of your isolation, and you can receive it at a testing centre. Similarly, if you are symptomatic and attend a testing centre, you may be given a RAT for free.
People who are close contacts or symptomatic are being encouraged not to go to chemists or pharmacies.
“If you are symptomatic and a close contact, you can go to the testing centre as many times as you need to. All of those tests are free,” Mr Morrison said yesterday.
Who has to pay for a rapid antigen test?
Pretty much everyone else — that is to say people who don’t hold a concession card, don’t have symptoms and aren’t close contacts.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese is continuing to call for the tests to be made free for everybody .
“The easiest and simplest way is to make free tests available for all just like PCR tests are available and free,” he said.
Rapid tests remain scarce across much of Australia, and there have been many anecdotal reports of retailers taking advantage of the short supply by price gouging.
After yesterday’s national cabinet meeting, the federal government strengthened rules against rapid test price gouging.
It means retailers who sell the tests at higher than a 20 per cent mark-up will face hefty fines and the threat of imprisonment.
Who needs a PCR test?
National cabinet agreed yesterday to change a rule that people who test positive on a RAT follow it up with a PCR test.
A positive RAT is now considered proof of infection, meaning people who test positive on a RAT no longer require a PCR test.
Other testing requirements for truckies and international arrivals were also eased.
But the health advice remains that if you have COVID-19 symptoms, you should visit a testing centre.