Push for free rapid tests, faster boosters

·3-min read

Labor has called on the federal government to subsidise rapid antigen tests for people who can't afford them as demand surges and new daily COVID-19 infections skyrocket.

People have been flocking to pharmacies for home testing kits amid lengthy queues at state-run clinics overwhelmed by demand in the lead up to Christmas.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese thinks everyone should have access to rapid tests regardless of their income.

"Equity is really important in the Australian health system and that needs to be thought about by the federal government in terms of antigen tests," he told reporters in Sydney on Thursday.

"What we need to do is to make sure that no one doesn't have access to antigen tests because they don't have enough income. It's as simple as that."

NSW will mail the tests to households as its new daily cases reach another high of 5715 infections. Victoria recorded 2005 new cases, up from 1503 reported on Wednesday.

The latest data from NSW and Victoria on Thursday showed a combined 117 people in intensive care across the two states.

This includes 39 people in Victoria on a ventilator out of 72 in intensive care and a total of 398 hospital patients.

In NSW, 45 people are in intensive care out of an overall 347 hospital patients.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said hospitalisation numbers can lag following a spike.

"These things can change. There can be a lag. So we're fully prepared and I don't want to make false promises on that," Mr Hunt told reporters in Melbourne.

"But so far those signs (on hospitalisations) are very, very heartening."

He cited federal data showing 54 virus patients in Australia required ventilation out of a total of 112 in intensive care on Wednesday.

About 91 per cent of people aged 16 and older are double-dosed.

More than 1.8 million Australians have received a booster shot and Mr Hunt says the national rollout is 500,000 doses ahead of schedule.

Almost all states and territories have tightened mask requirements, with Western Australia the latest to beef up its mandate to wear them in all public indoor settings throughout Perth and the Peel region.

Premier Mark McGowan announced the mandate after a backpacker tested positive and was infectious in the community for a number of days.

"I know this is not the news we wanted to hear two days before Christmas, but unfortunately this is the reality of COVID-19," he said.

"While our contact tracers and testing staff do their work, we all need to do our bit. Let's follow the rules, wear a mask and get vaccinated if you haven't already."

Mr McGowan said authorities know of five close contacts - the man's girlfriend and housemates - but that casual contacts would be in the hundreds given the locations the man visited, which included nightclubs, restaurants and bars.

A NSW mask mandate will also come into effect for indoor settings from midnight, despite Premier Dominic Perrottet previously maintaining mask use was a personal responsibility.

People will also be encouraged to work from home, while density limits will be reintroduced from December 27 until January 27, where a limit of one person per two square metres will apply.

The ACT also moved on Thursday to reintroduce a ban on visitors to Canberra hospitals, except for end-of-life care, births or pediatric situations.

The ban will come into effect from Boxing Day, allowing people to visit loved ones in hospital during Christmas.

Queensland reported 369 new daily infections, the ACT 85, South Australia 484, Tasmania 26 and the Northern Territory 10.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting