Unpleasant as getting swabbed for a COVID-19 test may be, it’s not as unpleasant as being told your mandated COVID-19 PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test will set you back $112.
That was the experience of one Canberra woman who attended the ACT Health COVID-19 testing clinic last Friday night.
According to reports received by Region Media, this resident was told when she arrived at EPIC that if she didn’t have symptoms or wasn’t a close contact, she may have to pay for a test.
She needed a negative COVID-19 test to visit a relative in a regional NSW aged care facility. A PCR test, rather than a rapid antigen test, was a condition of entry to the facility. Negative COVID-19 tests may also be required for some travel.
The source told Region Media that staff and nurses at EPIC were encouraging people to ‘develop’ symptoms before arriving at the front of the queue to avoid paying for a precautionary test. Staff walked down a line of waiting cars and were also heard discussing the message at a shift changeover.
A spokesperson for ACT Health was unable to corroborate the report.
They said that if a person attends an ACT Government testing clinic without symptoms or having been directed to get testing by ACT Health or another state or territory health authority, they will not be tested.
The spokesperson said ACT Health has “been clear with the community throughout the pandemic that public testing clinics are only for people who require testing [for the aforementioned reasons]”.
Without going into the specifics of this particular instance, the spokesperson said any “questions about visitor entry policies will need to be directed to the relevant residential aged care facility”.
Ms Stephen-Smith said today that each aged care facility was now in charge of its own visitor policies.
Since the start of the territory’s recent outbreak, COVID-19 cases have been recorded at four aged care facilities – LDK Greenway, Calvary Haydon Retirement Village, Goodwin Village Ainslie and from today, St Andrew’s Village in Hughes.
The ACT Government COVID-19 website also states it’s unable to provide the required documentation for international or domestic travel.
Instead, people who need to provide a negative test result for travel will be required to arrange this “privately with your GP and discuss any fees for this service”.
Low testing numbers in recent weeks have led to authorities pleading with the community to get tested to maintain surveillance of the virus across the ACT.
Today, Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith again issued a call for anyone with symptoms to get tested and stay home, saying now is not the time for ‘soldiering on’ when unwell. She was happy to see longer lines this morning at testing sites around Canberra.
Rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 are now available from retailers such as chemists and major supermarkets after the TGA approved them for use from Monday, 1 November. Currently, a pack of five tests could cost around $60.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said there may be situations where the government could fund rapid antigen tests if required as a condition of entry to government-run facilities. For the most part, however, he said Canberrans would need to access and purchase their own kits.
Doherty Institute Modelling presented to National Cabinet earlier this month suggested using a “test to stay” system where children only had to stay home if they returned a positive result to a rapid test. The modelling showed this was as effective as quarantining a whole class.
Earlier today, Ms Stephen-Smith said authorities are considering whether or not a pilot program of the testing regime would go ahead this year.
Rapid antigen tests work similarly to a PCR test – through a nasal or throat swab – but can return results much quicker.
The TGA advises that anyone who returns a positive result after using a rapid antigen test should get a PCR test as these are more reliable.