‘Additional protection’ of home COVID testing expected before Christmas09/26/2021
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Home COVID-19 testing will become widely available as soon as the medical regulator approves its use, with the federal government eager for self-testing to become another layer in the community’s protection against the pandemic as the country opens up.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the federal government wants rapid antigen tests available for home use as soon as the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has given the all clear. Mr Hunt said early signs the regulator would change the regulation for the tests was “very good”.
Currently, rapid antigen tests can only be performed under medical supervision.Credit:Kate Geraghty
“Subject to effectiveness against Delta, we would like to see these available by Christmas if not well before,” Mr Hunt said.
The Health Minister said rapid antigen testing (RAT) would “complement” the gold-standard PCR test and other public health measures.
“It’s an additional protection over and above the current testing, or the PCR,” Mr Hunt said.
“There had been some reluctance from some jurisdictions, for the simple reason that they were worried that positives may not be reported, and they were worried that it might not be as accurate as PCR. But the view is that it’s a complement to not a replacement for the PCR testing.”
In a statement, a TGA spokesperson said the regulator has started working on the steps that would allow the tests to be used in home settings. Those steps include making instructions more consumer-friendly.
“Home testing will require the support of the states and territories. At this stage the states have not supported the use of RAT in place of or in addition to PCR testing,” the spokesperson said.
Labor’s health spokesman Mark Butler said the government has been too slow to act on broadening the use of rapid antigen tests which he said has been used in the US and UK “to get people back to work safely, kids back to school, and see life start to return to normal”.
Rapid antigen tests are already being used in a variety of settings, including aged care facilities, for film and TV production and at the Howard Springs quarantine facility when it was run by the Commonwealth government.
The tests are not allowed to be sold to individuals for self-testing, the medical regulator says, and the supply of home tests for COVID-19 is illegal. That means any change to allow for home testing would require regulatory change.
Antigen tests use a less invasive nose and mouth swab than the widely recognised PCR tests, and instead of being sent to a lab the tests provide results within 10 to 15 minutes. The tests are less sensitive than PCR tests, and come with a higher risk of both false-positive and false-negative results.
So far 33 different antigen tests have been approved by the TGA, and the regulator has received 72 expressions of interest for home tests.
The TGA website says it requires antigen testing to be done under medical supervision because of the “critical importance of immediate notification of positive cases” in states and territories. The regulator said there was a risk some people may conceal their results, and there were concerns around symptomatic people entering pharmacies to buy tests and potentially exposing pharmacy staff and customers to the virus.
Both NSW and Victoria have unveiled plans to use the tests as they look to bring more students back into schools.
Victorian Education Minister James Merlino announced the state will run a trial of home testing for families once the practice is approved, while some Sydney private schools are already trialling the fast turnaround tests.
Transport groups have also called for widespread use of antigen testing in the industry instead of PCR tests, which have led to drivers isolating for days as they await results.
A NSW Health spokeswoman said the department has committed to providing advice to industry on the role rapid antigen testing can play in protecting workers and preventing disease.
“This guidance is to ensure NSW businesses are aware of the TGA requirements for kit supply, use and supervision, and the NSW public health requirements in relation to action taken for a positive test,” she said, adding the state government expects businesses to cover the costs of any rapid antigen testing program they decide to run.
The rapid tests do not form part of the Victorian government’s reopening plan.
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