National cabinet: PM to propose ‘support’ for low income earners for rapid antigen tests

  • Published January 5, 2022, 5 January 2022

Premiers and chief ministers will meet with the Prime Minister at 2pm – less than a week after the last national cabinet meeting – to discuss the vaccine rollout, the capacity of the health system and testing issues.

It is understood Mr Morrison will take a proposal on some kind of support for concessional and low income earners with regard to rapid antigen tests to the states and territories at the meeting.

This is likely to take the form of direct cash payments for up to five rapid antigen tests, paid through the same mechanism as the Covid disaster payment.

NCA NewsWire also understands he will also offer additional tests to state-run testing clinics to hand out for free to people suffering symptoms or who are deemed close contacts.

It comes as demand has skyrocketed for rapid antigen tests amid soaring Covid infections, with many pharmacies and supermarkets selling out.

Close contacts and casual contacts with symptoms can get free rapid antigen tests from clinics, but these sites have been overwhelmed with huge queues, with a large number forced to shut temporarily due to backlogs.

If people are not close contacts or symptomatic, they have to buy the rapid tests themselves, raising concerns about affordability for low-income earners, who may have to pay between $10 and $30 per test due to the shortages.

The PM had previously declared he would not make the tests free, as to not undercut the private market - a move that sparked backlash on social media.

“And by making that policy very, very clear, then that means the private market, whether it’s in the big warehouse pharmacies or the other pharmacies or the supermarkets, they can now go and stock their shelves with confidence that they won’t be undercut by the government,” the Prime Minister told the Today Show on Monday, while defending the policy to not make them free to everyone.

But Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said he supported making the tests free for everyone during an interview on the ABC’s 7.30 program on Tuesday night.

“I would have no problem with that whatsoever. The truth is that at the moment, people can’t get access to supply and if they can, for so many people it’s simply unaffordable,” he said.

“Our health system is based upon the principle of Medicare - that people get the healthcare they need when they require it.”

The Health Services Union will also on Wednesday call for the government to commit to providing free rapid antigen test kits to people, saying a family couldn’t afford $150 out of their budget.

“Big retailers profiteering is no different to individuals looting during a crisis; the Prime Minister needs to step in and ensure rapid antigen tests are free and accessible to everyone who needs them,” HSU national president Gerard Hayes said.

“When the Morrison government and NSW government decided they would allow Omicron to rip through the community, they should have had a plan in place for Covid testing.

“But there was no plan, and now our health system is currently overwhelmed and private testing clinics are temporarily closing due to the backlog of samples needed to be processed.

“Rapid antigen tests can provide a quick answer to those who think they may have contracted the virus.”