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January 23, 2022

Calls for free rapid antigen tests for people on lowest incomes

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Rapid antigen test kit.

When you can find rapid antigen tests (RAT), the cost is prohibitive for many people and the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) is calling on the Federal Government to provide free RATs for people who rely on social security payments.

President Peter McNamara said ACOSS are very concerned that people relying on income support payments just can’t afford $70 for a rapid antigen test (RAT) kit, leaving them unable to assess their risk from COVID-19 for themselves, their families and the community.

‘It is irresponsible and callous of the Federal Government to fail to make provision for up to three million people already struggling to survive below the poverty line. Especially when we have evidence that people living in the lowest socioeconomic groups have experienced almost four times as many COVID-19 deaths as people in the highest income group.

The people hardest hit

‘We know that the hardest hit by COVID-19 and all variants are people who are homeless, people with disabilities, First Nations people, especially those who live remotely, the elderly, single-parent households, people relying on JobSeeker ($45/day) and young people on Youth Allowance (just $36/day).

‘We need to prioritise these groups and the community sector that support them who are on the frontline, and who see and respond to this crisis first.’

Mr McNamara said there needs to be greater clarity of information from the NSW and Victorian governments on how people in these states can access free RATs as well. ‘It seems currently only registered aged care facilities are being supplied with free RATs.

‘The need for governments to keep all people safe from the virus is as pressing as it ever was. We know from ACOSS member organisations providing services on the ground that there are still certain areas and populations with low vaccination rates.

Ensuring everyone has equitable access to testing

‘Ultimately, the most effective way to protect all of us is to ensure everyone has equitable access to testing, vaccinations, including booster shots and other related health and hospital services.

‘Because of the extraordinary work of community-led health initiatives connecting with those hardest to reach, people who were hesitant about the vaccine, or who had struggled for access, are now better protected. We’ve started closing that gap in coverage rates.

Mr McNamara said the Federal Government needs to increase its investment in community-led health initiatives. ‘These are organisations working locally to inform people about the latest covid-19 developments, explain the benefits of the vaccine, arrange for them to have access to a jab, and checking on them afterwards. They are a vital complementary force to the mass vaccination clinics and GP hubs.

‘ACOSS also calls on the Department of Health to release more granular data about the infection rates, vaccination rates and death rates of at-risk groups such as those experiencing disadvantage. By knowing who is yet to be vaccinated and where they are, and their vulnerability to the virus, community-led health services can reach them and offer coverage.’


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      • Not everyone will get the 10 RATs. The qualified, belated announcement, as usual, seemed much more driven by polling and reference groups than any sound cost/benefit analysis or genuine concern for either public health or social justice.

        With PCR testing queues out of control – with essential workers waiting days for clearance to return to work – it seems that RATs, with all their attendant shortcomings, will now become a vital part of pandemic management. It’s not all about the “worried we’ll” alleviating their hypochondria.

        There was once a time in this country when we thought we had universal health care for such obvious necessities.

  1. I agree. I think the “powers that be” are constantly looking for ways to be rid of these people as quickly as possible. Without going into detail of the lead up to my COVID test, I’m still waiting for the result of a test taken on 8th November!

  2. In Indonesia, where my wife’s family are, rapid antigen tests have been readily available for a year or more. They cost Rp150,000 (about $15) each.


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