Free RAT scheme for concession card holders to be wound up as COVID-19 cases grow

The federal government will end a scheme providing free rapid antigen tests (RATs) to concession card holders, as COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations rise across Australia.
The program, introduced in January, meant those eligible could receive 10 free RATs every three months. It was rolled out at pharmacies across the country.
But Health Minister Mark Butler confirmed on Tuesday the scheme would be wound up at the end of the month, saying it was “about the right time” to do so.

“The price has come down dramatically, the cost was averaging $24-$25 per test in January, they’re now down to about $8 a test,” he told Melbourne’s 3AW radio.

The move comes as COVID-19 case numbers and hospitalisations increase across the country, .
As of Monday, Australia had 311,332 active cases across the country. Since the pandemic began, there have been 10,326 COVID-19-related deaths.
Mr Butler said the rise in infections still had a long way to go.
He indicated COVID-19 cases were not likely to peak nationally for at least four weeks during the third wave of infections.

“All of the modelling indicates that case numbers and hospitalisations have further to go over probably the next four to six weeks,” he told 3AW.


Meanwile, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has defended the scrapping of pandemic leave payments amid calls for them to be reinstated, laying the blame at the feet of the previous government.
The payments for workers who needed to spend time away from work while they isolated ended on 30 June.
Mr Albanese said he wouldn’t bring back the payments due to the need for the government to rein in spending.
“We inherited the former government’s decision on this and we also inherited $1 trillion of debt,” he told reporters in Sydney.
“They are circumstances which my government faces … there are a range of things we would like to do, but we intend to be fiscally responsible in how we deal with issues”.
Under the federal government’s Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment, for each seven-day period of self-isolation, quarantine or caring, recipients were entitled to $450 if they lost at least eight hours or a full day’s work, and less than 20 hours of work.

Those who lost 20 or more hours of work were entitled to $750.


Prime Minister Anthony Albanese gets his fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose at a chemist in Rozelle, Sydney, on Tuesday. Source: AAP / Dean Lewins

As case numbers rise across the country, Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said hospitals could hold back some elective surgery due to the strain on the system.

He said the emergence of influenza for the first time in three years in Australia had also made the issue worse.
“All of that together has caused issues in our hospitals, and so (postponing elective surgeries) is a pretty standard thing to be done at this time of year during the winter season,” Professor Kelly told ABC TV on Tuesday.
“With this increase now in the new variant of COVID, that has exacerbated that problem.”
The prime minister received his fourth vaccine dose on Tuesday following .

While case numbers have increased and calls have grown for mask mandates to return, Mr Albanese said he would follow health advice on the issue.


“Mandates on those issues, of course, are a matter for … state governments around the country,” he said.
“We will continue to take advice on these issues by health experts, and we’ve acted on all the advice that has been given during the pandemic.”
Professor Kelly said the rising number of reinfections had brought extra complexity to handling the virus.
“The new BA.4 and BA.5 (Omicron variants) are more infectious and there is strong evidence that you can get reinfected earlier,” he said.
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee has recommended the reinfection period be reduced from 12 weeks to 28 days following the rise of cases of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.
This means people will be required to get tested and isolate if they redevelop symptoms 28 days after recovering from the virus, and could be reported and managed as new cases.

NSW and Western Australia have already followed suit.

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