Rapid antigen tests: TGA approves home use, but Barr warns Canberrans will bear their own cost

Health Minister Greg Hunt says home use for rapid antigen tests is an important step. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Health Minister Greg Hunt says home use for rapid antigen tests is an important step. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Australians will be able to test themselves for COVID-19 in their own home in just over a month, but Canberrans have been told they'll bear the cost themselves.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration has approved rapid antigen tests, which can produce a result within 20 minutes, for self-use from November 1.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the tests could be provided in settings where they were a condition of entry to a government-run facility. But he said Canberrans would for the most part be required to fund their own tests.

"The ACT government is not going to be buying 15 million of these test kits and posting them to every Canberran. No, you'll often need to access them yourself," he said.

"I don't want anyone to think ... that there's going to be free, government-funded rap tests for everyone for the end of time."

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Rapid antigen tests, performed through a nasal or throat swab, were less accurate than PCR tests, but cheaper and produced a result more quickly.

In the UK, where tests were usually a condition of international travel, individual antigen tests cost around $65 but varied depending on the brand. In Singapore, tests cost as little as $10.

The TGA has already approved 33 types for use in Australia, where they were already administered in certain settings like aged care.

But Tuesday's decision will waive a requirement that they be administered by a medical professional, allowing Australians to test themselves.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said their imminent availability would provide an extra layer of screening to give Australians confidence.

He said each specific test would need to be given the green light by the TGA, which had already received over 70 expressions of interest. Companies will be able to formally apply for approval from Friday.

"This is an important additional protection for Australians home testing to support Australians and support the national plan," he said.

"They will now be considered and made available if found to be safe and effective."

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The TGA's Professor John Skerritt told a Senate committee on COVID-19 a positive result could prompt the user to come forward for a PCR test.

"It is possible that some states and territories will put in a public health order that legally requires any individual to do that," he said.

Professor Skerritt said the tests were currently designed for trained medical professionals, usually a pharmacist or a nurse, who businesses could provide "on tap".

He said shifting to an at-home model would necessitate "very simple, often graphical" instructions, enabling them to be used regardless of a person's English proficiency.

"The instructions are [currently] designed for someone who has already had training. That's a very big difference between [them and] a home test," he said.

But with rapid antigen tests having been a feature in Europe and the US for months, Labor leader Anthony Albanese accused the government of lagging behind on the technology.

"It always has been a race and Scott Morrison has always been too slow, which is why Australia was running last in the developed world for the rollout of the vaccines. And now, we're behind when it comes to these rapid tests at home," he said.

It comes after revelations the ACT had overtaken first-rate dose coverage in the UK, lauded for its efficient rollout. By Tuesday, 88.6 per cent of the territory's 16-and-over population had received at least one vaccine dose, compared to 88.4 per cent in the UK.

If the current vaccination was maintained, the ACT was expected to reach 90 per cent first-dose coverage by Thursday, and a 70 per cent full-vaccination rate by October 9. In the 12-to-15 range, not included in the national reopening targets, nearly 42 per cent had received a first jab.

COVID-19 Taskforce commander Lieutenant-General John Frewen told the committee Australia was expected to hit 70 per cent full vaccination by the end of October.

Victoria's daily case number surpassed that of NSW for the first time since its outbreak occurred, recording 867 locally acquired infections.

Chief medical officer Paul Kelly said high vaccination levels in NSW, which recorded 863, had made initial predictions of a mid-October peak redundant.

"We wouldn't count our chickens before they're completely hatched, but at the moment it certainly looks very positive that the peak of both cases and severe illness has been reached in NSW," he said.

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This story Home COVID-19 tests will be at your own cost: Barr first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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