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COVID-19 self-testing kits to be available at pharmacies, convenience stores within weeks

“The second thing is to ensure that each of the states and territories is in a position to accept that, but from a national perspective home testing will be available from 1 November.”

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Therapeutic Goods Administration head Professor John Skerritt told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday home tests would be available for people to buy “on the internet, to pharmacies, convenience stores, whatever channels they want to get”.

Professor Skerritt said he was confident some of the home tests would be approved by November.

“We’re working very actively with a range of companies, because the current tests are designed for professional use,” he told the Senate COVID-19 committee on Tuesday. “I do believe companies will be ready. But I don’t think they’ll be ready a long time before November.”

Unlike PCR testing, which is provided free at testing centres, rapid antigen comes at a cost and Mr Hunt said it would be something people purchased themselves.

Some aged care providers say the cost of rapid tests are bleeding budgets, despite the additional reassurance it is providing staff before shifts.

Frank Price, general manager at Royal Freemasons Benevolent Institution, said the supply of rapid tests across 19 aged care facilities was costing up to $55,000 a week.

“We are drowning at the moment and cannot continue to pay for testing. They have picked up some false positives but the cost is unsustainable,” he said.

Ian Norton, the founder and managing director of Respond Global that helps businesses deploy rapid antigen testing in industry settings, estimated tests could cost $20 each.

”In bulk, the tests can cost as little as $4.50 but can cost up to $20 or more for individual tests in a retail setting such as pharmacy,” Dr Norton said.

He pointed to Singapore and the United Kingdom as examples of places that had embraced widespread rapid testing regimes, with governments mailing tests to households.

Department of Health secretary Professor Brendan Murphy said earlier in the pandemic it was important to stick with the gold-standard PCR testing to pick up all cases in the community.

“It’s only now, only now that we have community transmission and we’re starting to transition to living with COVID, that these [rapid antigen] tests are applicable,” he told the COVID committee.

“We are pulling out all stops, to get the regulatory approval done as quickly as possible.”

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NSW Deputy Chief Health Officer Marianne Gale said rapid antigen testing would be “part of a toolkit” of measures to manage COVID-19, but it was not yet determined how these tests would be reported. She noted it “may be operationally challenging” to get results from at-home tests.

With Mary Ward

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