Vic buys 10m more RATs as COVID cases soar

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  • Jacinta Allan
    Australian politician

Nearly one-in-three Victorians tested for COVID-19 are returning a positive result, with the state ordering an extra 10 million rapid antigen tests as PCR sites continue to be overwhelmed.

Victoria reported 17,636 new cases on Wednesday from 59,682 tests, a positivity rate of 29.5 per cent.

There were also 11 more deaths and active cases have risen to 51,317.

Acting premier Jacinta Allan said testing systems were under significant strain but the government has secured a further 10 million rapid tests, in additional to 34 million announced last week.

The first of the 44 million free RATs will be distributed in coming days, although it is still unclear how, and she hopes they will ease testing demand.

In Wednesday's national cabinet meeting, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and other leaders agreed those who return a positive result from a rapid antigen test no longer need to have their infection confirmed with a PCR test.

Single RATs were also distributed at four PCR testing centres in Melbourne on Wednesday as part of a pilot program.

At another PCR site in Torquay, one person told AAP they parked their car at the front of the queue on Tuesday night to guarantee themselves a spot on Wednesday morning.

By 8am, more than 30 state-run sites temporarily suspended testing because they'd reached capacity and by 10am it was more than 50.

That was on top of 54 testing sites run by four private pathology providers, which have suspended operations until at least January 9 to allow their labs to catch up on a backlog of tests.

Opposition Leader Matthew Guy has again called for the state government to open more testing sites.

"We're doing half the tests of NSW," he said.

"For the queues and people waiting hours and hours in testing centres, they would no doubt be absolutely furious."

Causing as much controversy as testing availability is news that tennis star Novak Djokovic has been granted a vaccine exemption allowing him to enter the country to play in the Australian Open.

Tennis Australia and the state government have defended Djokovic's exemption, saying he is one of a "handful" of the 26 applicants granted an exemption from the strict vaccine rules.

Ms Allan said it would be "the decent thing" for Djokovic to explain how he qualified.

Acting sports minister Jaala Pulford acknowledged Victorians would be disappointed but denied there was special treatment, with all applications de-identified and assessed by independent expert panels.

"No one is or will be receiving special treatment because of who they are or what they have achieved professionally," she said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Serbian world No.1 would have prove he cannot be vaccinated upon landing.

"If that evidence is insufficient, then he won't be treated any different to anyone else and will be on the next plane home," he told reporters in Canberra.

Meanwhile, Victoria's vaccine booking system for children five to 11 has gone live after the system's launch was earlier delayed by an IT issue.

Some users reported the government portal crashed or bookings were not available until mid-February, while others secured slots in minutes.

State-run vaccination clinics will be decorated with a nature and animal theme to make the experience less intimidating for children, with additional support available to families.

VICTORIA'S LATEST COVID-19 FIGURES:

* Active cases: 51,317

* Hospital cases: 591, up 75

* Hospital cases seven-day average: 503

* Active cases in ICU: 53

* Cleared cases in ICU: 53

* Cases on a ventilator: 20

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