13 July 2022

Territory records 1345 new COVID-19 infections; pharmacists confused by end of free RAT program

| Lottie Twyford
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'Rapid Antigen Tests sold out' sign

Gone are the days when finding a rapid antigen test was not only next to impossible but very expensive too. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The Territory has recorded 1345 (796 PCR and 549 RAT) new COVID-19 infections in the 24 hours to 8 pm last night as the Federal Government defends its decision not to extend the free rapid antigen test program for concession card holders.

Hospitalisations have once again hit another record – 142 – up from yesterday’s record of 140.

This gradual climb upwards is in line with predictions made by the Territory’s Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerryn Coleman, who said on Monday that between 160 and 200 COVID-19 patients could be cared for in the Territory’s hospital by month’s end.

Around 80,000 Canberrans became eligible for the free-RAT scheme in late January amid soaring case numbers. Anyone eligible could access 10 free kits in three months (capped at five a month) through community pharmacies, but supply was initially a major barrier to access.

The federal government’s scheme will cease at the end of this month, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese telling people who are eligible to claim their full supply of testing kits before it winds up on 31 July.

Mr Albanese told ABC Radio his government had inherited not only schemes such as the concessional RAT program but also a trillion dollars worth of debt.

Federal Health Minister Mark Butler also defended the decision, saying the scheme had been introduced when the kits were scarce and much more expensive.

Mr Butler told radio 3AW yesterday some state and territory governments already provided free tests in some settings, such as for people who needed to visit aged-care facilities.

The ACT Government can provide rapid antigen tests for household contacts who cannot obtain them from their workplace or where they would experience financial hardship. Collection is available at the COVID-19 Surge Centre in Garran.

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Already, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has argued making RATs widely available for vulnerable groups on low incomes is essential in tackling COVID-19 across Australia.

They’ve been joined in criticising the government’s decision by the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia which said it sends the wrong message to the public and puts vulnerable people at risk.

ACT Pharmacy Guild President Simon Blacker said he was left confused by the Federal Government’s timing given the expected increase in cases and hospitalisations driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants.

“They’ve recently changed advice for the winter dose to ensure more people are eligible and oral antivirals have also been made more readily available so they are making good decisions,” he said.

“It just seems confusing they would end a scheme that puts RATs in the hands of a portion of our population so they can test themselves and try to keep the people around them and themselves safe at a time when there’s a surge in cases.”

Mr Blacker said overall, the scheme had been a success, and like the Prime Minister, he urged people to ensure they picked up the full supply of tests they were eligible for before the scheme wound up at the end of the month.

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Locally, there are now 142 patients in Canberra Hospital with the virus. Of these, four are in ICU and three require ventilation.

There are now 7228 (3922 PCR and 3306 RAT) known active infections in the Territory.

A total of 173,465 (103,265 PCR and 70,200 RAT) COVID-19 cases have been recorded since the pandemic began in March 2020.

The double-dose vaccination rate for the ACT’s five-plus population remains 97.4 per cent and 77.5 per cent of residents aged 16 and older have received a booster.

Of ACT residents aged five to 11, 69.4 per cent have received two doses of vaccine.

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Interstate, NSW has reported 15 deaths overnight and 10,622 new cases of COVID-19.

There are now 2023 people in hospital with the virus and 61 people in ICUs around the state.

Victoria has reported 20 deaths overnight and 11,176 cases of COVID-19.

There are now 739 people hospitalised with the virus and 36 patients are in the state’s intensive care units.

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Scott Anthony7:35 pm 14 Jul 22

Airbus Albo sure campaigned that he’d be a ‘leader’ and available but the reality is that he makes plenty of pithy excuses blaming the previous government for why he won’t extend the RAT program… what a loser.

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