Business demand federal government step-in to make rapid antigen tests free

 Industry groups want free antigen tests for lockdown-hit businesses. Picture: Shutterstock
Industry groups want free antigen tests for lockdown-hit businesses. Picture: Shutterstock

Peak industry groups are demanding rapid antigen tests for businesses struggling to stay open during lockdown.

And with the cost of ongoing testing potentially prohibitive for small businesses, the federal government is facing calls to bankroll the rollout.

With more than half of Australians in lockdown, businesses across the country have been forced to temporarily close their doors due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Wednesday called for the federal government to roll out rapid antigen tests, which can produce a result within 15 minutes, free-of-charge to avoid snap business closures.

ACCI chief executive Andrew McKellar said businesses were being forced to wait for the results of PCR tests, and antigen tests would allow employees to return more quickly.

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He described Commonwealth intervention as the "first step" towards Australia learning to "live with the virus".

"A phased rapid testing program provides an additional line of defence to give businesses the certainty and confidence they desperately need, and ensures staff and customers are safe in the workplace," he said.

"Workplaces that are operating in lockdowns, like supermarkets and construction sites, need to have every tool available to them to avoid snap closures and reduce the risk to their employees, their customers and the community."

Higher transmission rates were expected once Australia emerged from lockdown when 70 and 80 per cent vaccination rates were achieved. Rapid antigen tests, which were less accurate than PCR tests, were expected to play a greater roll in the nation's defences.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Sunday predicted antigen testing would have a "major role" in responding to COVID-19 once the nation's targets, outlined by the Doherty Institute, were met.

The tests, conducted as a swab or saliva test, were already common in the UK and the US, both further along in their vaccine rollout than Australia.

But with many businesses needing to implement ongoing testing, EY chief economist Jo Masters on Wednesday told a CEDA forum cost would prove a barrier.

"It's expensive. That's less of an issue for the big end of town, but for small and medium-sized enterprises, that's a cost that they just may not be able to wear," Ms Masters said.

Ms Masters also noted a medical professional was currently required to oversee the test in Australia. More than 20 types of antigen tests have been approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, though self-use was not allowed.

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This story Industry presents plan to help businesses open up earlier first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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