PM defends free rapid tests amid confusion

·3-min read

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has talked down concerns about the rollout of free rapid antigen tests for more than six million concession cardholders, saying they're not for essential purposes.

One Victorian pharmacy northwest of Geelong said pharmacies were under the impression the government would provide the RATs, which they would then distribute to concession cardholders for free.

Bannockburn Pharmacy expressed its confusion at the model with pharmacies having to source their own stock and distribute the tests to cardholders before being reimbursed by the government.

"Pharmacies were under the impression that the federal government would be allocating stock they have ordered directly to us pharmacies," it said in a social media post.

"This would have meant that pharmacies would have received stock around the same time, making it easier for the community (if they hold a concessional card) to know when they could start collecting them."

More than six million concession cardholders will be able to access 10 free tests over a three-month period, with Mr Morrison calling the arrangements with pharmacies straightforward.

"They're used to doing that with many other medicines and they follow a very similar process and that's why we chose to do it with the pharmacies because they have the systems in place," he said.

But Bannockburn Pharmacy said supply was already uncertain and it didn't know when the RATs would be delivered or if orders would be delivered in full.

"Because pharmacies were under the impression we would be receiving stock directly from the federal government, it means now pharmacies have to go back to suppliers to increase our orders and we don't know when and if these increased orders will be fulfilled."

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia told AAP it was still working through the details with the government but free tests delivered directly to pharmacies were never the case.

The prime minister said the health minister continued to work closely with the guild and an announcement on arrangements will be made shortly.

Mr Morrison also said essential tests were still free for Australians.

"I want to stress - anyone who is symptomatic or a close contact gets a free test. Always has, always will," he said.

"The additional supplementary tests that people will be getting concessional access to, they are not essential tests. They are discretionary tests."

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the government needed to stop pretending there aren't issues with the testing regime.

"People are queuing because they are sick and then being told to go and get a rapid antigen test which isn't available and they can't find," he told reporters on Monday.

"The gap between what the prime minister says will happen and what actually does happen is something that is a cause of much frustration."

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce says panic buying and hoarding is leading to shortages of test kits.

Mr Joyce said while 200 million tests were on their way, Australians should only buy what they needed.

"Don't take more than what you require because that means someone else misses out."

Mr Joyce said while waiting for stocks to arrive, people should exercise personal responsibility.

"If you feel a bit crook ... stay home and be careful as you would do if you had the flu or so many other viruses or diseases you might catch," he said.

"It is more important than a cold, but if you had a cold you wouldn't go around coughing and spluttering on people."

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