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It is a R.A.T.-race, Mr Morrison!

As the rest of the first-world countries moved quickly to secure Rapid Antigen Tests (R.A.T.) to cope with the overwhelming impact of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, Scott Morrison, once again, has failed to lead. Its becoming increasingly clear that Scott Morrison is losing control of this exploding fourth wave of the pandemic we’re experiencing right now. He has failed on the R.A.T. race and he has failed on the booster rollout program and Wednesday's (5 January) partial blackflip on rapid tests still sees millions of Australians and working families left in the lurch by a Prime Minister who is out of touch and out of ideas.

7 January 2022

ALAN HAYES

 

THE COVID testing regime right across the country is collapsing. It's broken. People can't get tested. The PCR queues go for days because people can't get or afford rapid antigen tests.

 

Three quarters of Australians are desperately trying to get their hands on rapid tests, paying an arm and a leg for those test when they finally get one, but getting no support whatsoever from Scott Morrison who left them high and dry through Wednesday's national cabinet decision. Sick people are queuing for hours and hours in the sun and the rain, only to be then turned away to try again tomorrow. The impacts are horrendous and growing creating a ridiculous situation for clearly sick and infected people, who are going from chemist to chemist to chemist trying to get a R.A.T. test - because that’s what they've been told to do.

 

To make the situation worse, people are wasting their sick leave. Businesses are losing staff and losing customers. The perfect scenario for economic collapse – but Scott Morrison has his blinkers on and has plainly learned nothing from his bungled vaccine rollout. It is inexcusable, that in this third year of the pandemic, Australia still has supply problems with the vaccine program, and now there is a testing crisis.

 

Sir William Morrow, Deputy of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), spoke with officials from the Health Department at the Federal level in September last year, basically pleading with the Federal Government to stock up on Rapid Antigen Tests because the AMA was acutely aware of the rapid spread of COVID overseas.

 

And despite Scott Morrison's promises and reassurances millions of Australians who are eligible are still waiting to get their booster shot, which we know is so crucial in the fight against Omicron. And millions of Australia’s parents are desperately concerned that they might not be able to get a vaccine for their primary school aged children before the return to school later this month.

 

It is unlikely that Omicron will be the last COVID variant, so, why hasn’t Scott Morrison prepared for this? Because of his failure to take responsibility, now the hospital system and our health system is overwhelmed. Just like with the vaccines, Australia has missed out on securing Rapid Antigen Testing supplies and now there's a global supply shortage.

 

Morrison has repeatedly said that Australians have to learn to “live with COVID”, which is now true, but it is not a marketing slogan for him to take to the next election.

 

Morrison has failed to put the policies in place so that Australians can safely live with COVID, and on Wednesday he told Australia's working families , from now on, you’re on your own in this pandemic.

 

There are two critical weapons in the fight against omicron, a highly infectious variant that evades two doses of vaccines in a way we have not seen before in this pandemic. The first is rapid tests and the second is boosters. On Wednesday Scott Morrison patted himself on the back yet again for the hard work Australians did in getting themselves the first two doses of the coronavirus vaccine, but he neglected to mention that right now only ten percent of Australians have received the crucial booster shot. That’s half the rate in the USA and Canada, a third of the in France and Italy, a quarter of the rate in Germany and Ireland, and fully only one fifth of the rate in the United Kingdom. It is known from evidence just how crucial booster shots are to provide protection against this Omicron variant but yet again under Scott Morrison's so-called leadership Australia has one of the slowest, one of the worst rollouts of booster vaccines in the developed world.

 

Australians should not be put at risk because of Scott Morrison's incompetence. And, just like the COVID-19 vaccine, Rapid Antigen Tests should be available free to all Australians, not available to only those that can afford them. Yet, even though up to 10 Rapid Antigen Tests will be made available free throughout pharmacies to Commonwealth concession card holders over three months, there is still a huge gap that will still leave an unacceptable number of people disadvantaged and unable to get the tests.

 

The impacts of Scott Morrison failure to secure sufficient R.A.T.s is impacting on the Central Coast – long queues and insufficient availability of  R.A.T.s, or they’re far too expensive, and long PCR queues or testing facilities closed.

 

Steve, a resident of the northern suburbs of the Central Coast, said “I overheard that I could buy a R.A.T. from the chemist for $40 for one test.”

 

“I could do with a Rapid Antigen Test myself,” he said.

 

“I looked at my QR history to make sure I had checked out from the previous use last Friday and I had a covid alert.

 

“It read: Tuesday 28 Dec COVID case alert 1:09 pm – 1:34 pm. You may have been in contact with a person infectious with COVID-19 at Coles Budgewoi on Dec 28 December 2021. Unless otherwise advised by NSW Health you must monitor for symptoms. If you are unwell get a COVID-19 test.

 

“I feel fine 8 days later and I am not paying $40 or queuing up unless I feel crook.”

 

Steve is on a limited income and can ill afford to spend $40.00 at a time for a Rapid Antigen Test.

 

Labor’s Candidate for the seat of Robertson, Dr. Gordon Reid, has called on the Morrison government to ensure the Central Coast community has access to free Rapid Antigen Tests as a matter of urgency.

 

“Central Coast residents are being let down yet again by the Morrison government’s failure to lead”, said Dr. Reid.

 

“The Australian Medical Association, our medical professionals and our health workers have been calling for increased testing capacity and availability for months. Once again, this government is not prepared.”

 

Dr. Reid spoke of the ongoing difficulties accessing both R.A.T. and PCR tests.

 

Members of the community have reached out to him to share their experiences with the overwhelmed system, including parking their cars at Central Coast Clinics overnight in an attempt to secure a PCR test.

 

“People are wanting to do the right thing and are genuinely trying. However, with the inability to access or afford R.A.T.s, the inconceivable wait times for PCR tests and the unexpected closure of PCR testing sites, our community is feeling abandoned and vulnerable. Our community deserves to feel safe”, Dr. Reid said.

 

“Despite assurances from Scott Morrison, the chaotic search for tests continues. Small businesses are short-staffed and suffering. People need to be able to return to work without the fear of endangering the rest of the community.”

 

Dr. Reid also warned that medical and testing staff were under severe strain as clinics across the Central Coast closed or hours cut due to staff shortages, following positive test results.

 

“The system is stretched beyond capacity”, he said.

 

“Health staff across the Central Coast are under incredible pressure, with many working tirelessly over the Christmas and New Year break. The Central Coast deserves a government that plans and takes our health system and our health workers seriously. Our healthcare workers can only take care of the community if the government takes care of them."

 

Even though the Morrison Government is going to make a handful of tests free for a handful of people it will still have thousands upon thousands of people, who cannot afford to purchase R.A.T.s, spending unproductive hours queuing in the hope of a free PCR test.

 

The Morrison Government's methodology in providing Rapid Antigen Testing will only encourage the emergence of a R.A.T. black-market. Scott Morrison’s mismanagement of the COVID testing regime is ridiculous, it’s complex and it’s ineffective. If R.A.T.s were available via Medicare, it would not only be cheaper for people but would also be cheaper for taxpayers than PCR tests and better for the economy.

 

Countries like the UK and USA have taken the correct approach and made R.A.T.s freely and widely available, smoothing the economic impacts of the latest COVID surge. Yet, what do we get from Scott Morrison? Lack of clear guidance and a Prime Minister whose response to the growing testing problem makes no sense. Scott Morrison is making it up as he goes along – lying about the problem and blaming others for his mess.

 

Under Scott Morrison’s regime can people, whomever they are, get a test when they need one, and access them on a fair basis? The answer is no. They're generally not available and if they available they're not affordable, yet Rapid Antigen Tests were approved by the TGA last September and came into force from 1 November, and now there are supply issues. There is also a supply issue with booster shots.

 

So, people can't get boosters, they want to go and get tested, they can't get tested, they're waiting in queues for hours only to be sent away, then they get told, well, you can't do those tests, go and get yourself a Rapid Antigen Test and they can't find them and if they can find them they can't afford them. This is a public policy failure of momentous levels.

 

Not surprisingly, however, Scott Morrison admitted last Tuesday (4 January) that he is putting private profit over public health care and Medicare. It is nothing more than a Trumpian-Americanisation of our healthcare system. If you cannot afford to pay, you’ll be taken by the wolfs'. Australians have rejected this proposal before – they do not support a user-pay health system.

 

Scott Morrison doesn’t understand. He is a Prime Minister who is characterised by 'set and forget' - he just sits back and even when he turns up it's almost like he's still missing in action and wants to pretend that it's all somebody else's fault, saying that it is the states’ responsibility, not his.

 

It’s about time Scott Morrison took responsibility for the shambles that he has created!

 

Federal Liberal Member for Robertson Lucy Wicks and State Member for Terrigal Adam Crouch were asked to go on record on Wednesday 5 January about the Rapid Antigen Test debacle but have failed to respond to the Grapevine's request.

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