By: Michael Crooks
With cases soaring and testing clinics being overrun, Australians are seeking the simpler – and perhaps safer – way to determine if they have COVID-19.
But how easy is it to get your hands on a home-testing kit – known as a rapid antigen test (RAT)? How effective are they? And given the cost, is the government subsidising them?
A rapid antigen test (RAT) uses a nasal swab or saliva sample to test whether a person has the virus that causes COVID-19.
People perform the test at home with the results available within 20 minutes.
So it’s a less arduous procedure than queuing for hours for a PCR test – often surrounded by people who potentially have the virus. And quicker than waiting days for the result.
While a RAT detects COVID-19, the test is not as accurate as a PCR test.
PCR stands for polymerase chain reaction, a process where the genetic material obtained from a mouth or nasal swab is amplified. In this way, even a minuscule amount of the genetic material of the virus will show up to confirm a positive result.
The RAT, however, detects “whether proteins of the COVID-19 coronavirus are present in your body,” according to Healthdirect.
It may not detect the virus during its early stages in the body and is best used when the person is already symptomatic.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has approved a number of home self-tests.
The list is found here and includes details on the sensitivity of each brand of test.
The performance requirements for COVID-19 RATs “are internationally aligned with technical specifications published by the World Health Organization and the European Commission”, according to the TGA.
The TGA does not endorse any particular test; the department only lists the tests that meet the performance requirements.
Previously, Australians who tested positive from a RAT were required to confirm the diagnosis through a PCR test.
But last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that Australians who test positive with a RAT are no longer required to confirm their diagnosis with a PCR test.
This is expected to ease pressure on the extremely long testing lines at hospitals and clinics, fueled by the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
If you live in the UK, Canada and Singapore, you can get your hands on one for free.
But in Australia they cost at least $15, with reports indicating that some retailers are price gouging (something the Australian Government is promising to crack down on).
The Prime Minister first dismissed calls for the Government to subsidise the kits.
“You can’t make everything free,” he said on January 3.
“This is not a medicine; it is a test. And there is a difference between those two things.”
But following a national cabinet meeting on Wednesday (a day that marked more than 35,000 new cases in NSW), he announced that concession cardholders – about 6.6 million Australians – could receive 10 free tests over three months.
The rest will have to pay – or queue for a free PCR test.
“Universal free access was not considered the right policy response by all of the states and territories in attendance today, and the Commonwealth,” Mr Morrison said.
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Article supplied with thanks to Hope Media.