Omicron case numbers continue to increase in Australia. Omicron as COVID variant continues to show greater infectivity than the Delta variant, but with much less severity in terms of hospitalisations, ICU and ventilated patients. That makes testing of cases – with both PCR and Rapid Antigen Tests all the more important.
Since the beginning of the pandemic there have been 1,195,158 confirmed cases (globally 315.4 million cases plus) in Australia with 2,522 deaths (over 5.5 million deaths globally). Australia’s case and fatality rate continues are the second lowest in the OECD.
Such is the transmissibility of Omicron, in the past 24 hours; globally there have been 2,265,922 new infections and 6,606 deaths.
It seems to be the settled advice that the Omicron variant is highly transmissible, but significantly less severe than the Delta variant.
After the latest National Cabinet meeting (on January 13), the National Cabinet reaffirmed the National Plan ‘to Transition Australia’s National COVID-19 Response and continue work to suppress the virus under Phase C of the National Plan – seeking to minimise serious illness, hospitalisation and fatalities as a result of COVID-19 with baseline restrictions’.
COVID Cases and Vaccination administration so far:
On the vaccination side, to date over 45 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered in Australia. 346,349 vaccine doses were administered in the previous 24 hours. This was the third highest daily vaccination total on record with record numbers of 254,112, boosters and 55,570 5 to 11 year old vaccinations.
Almost 95 per cent of the Australian population aged 16 years and over have now had a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, including over 99 per cent of over 50 year olds and more than 99 per cent of over 70 year olds.
More than 92.3 per cent of Australians aged 16 years and over are now fully vaccinated including more than 97.3 per cent of over 50 year olds and more than 99 per cent of Australians over 70 years of age.
Over 4.3 million booster doses have been administered. Australia has sufficient supplies of boosters, with 24 million mRNA booster doses in stock in Australia. Yesterday over 242,000 boosters were administered across Australia. Over 48 per cent of those eligible for boosters have had a booster and almost 42 per cent of Australians aged 70 years of age and over have had a booster in the last 9 weeks since the booster program commenced.
Vaccinations for 5 to 11 year olds commenced on Monday 10 January. In only three days over 140,000 vaccinations have been administered to 5-11 years olds accounting for 6.2% of all 5-11 year olds.
Rapid Antigen Tests: Funding, availability and administration
National Cabinet noted that testing for people suspected to have COVID-19 or close contacts will continue to be provided for free through joint funding arrangements between the Commonwealth and state and territory governments, utilising either PCR or Rapid Antigen Testing technologies.
Many state and territory jurisdictions have placed significant orders for supplies of Rapid Antigen Tests with increasing numbers of tests available over coming weeks through state and territory clinics and the private sector.
PCR tests continue to be available in all state and territory clinics with significant reductions in testing times across all jurisdictions.
It has been agreed that priority access to the public provision of Rapid Antigen Testing is for health and aged care settings as well as people who are symptomatic, close contacts as well as vulnerable populations, such as remote Indigenous communities. The guidance for close contacts was updated on 30 December 2021, with close contacts defined as household contacts of confirmed cases.
National Cabinet agreed to the final arrangements for the Rapid Antigen Testing Concessional Access Program, funded jointly by the Commonwealth and states and territories.
Through the program, eligible Commonwealth concession card holders will be permitted to receive a maximum of ten free tests in a three month period with a maximum of five tests in any one month through participating community pharmacies. Eligibility will include people with a Pensioner Concession Card, Commonwealth Seniors Health Care Card, Department of Veterans’ Affairs Gold, White or Orange Card, Health Care Card, Low Income Health Card.
Community pharmacies will be reimbursed a set amount for the unit cost of the Rapid Antigen Tests (which will be $10 plus GST per test initially, with ongoing review of unit prices). For each supply transaction processed for an eligible person under this program (minimum of 2 tests and maximum of 5 tests per transaction), an Administration Handling and Infrastructure (AHI) fee of $4.30 per transaction will be reimbursed to the pharmacy, consistent with current AHI arrangements under the Seventh Community Pharmacy Agreement. Community Pharmacies will be responsible for sourcing supply for the program as they do for non-subsided rapid antigen tests.
Also read: Latest Update to Covid-19 Vaccine Rollout
Further implementation arrangements for the program will be published over the coming days following ongoing dialogue with the pharmacy profession.
The program to provide free Rapid Antigen Tests for concession card holders will become available through community pharmacies from 24 January 2022, noting that individual pharmacies will commence participation in the program as supply continues to become available in late January and early February 2022.
Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms and close contacts should attend a state clinic for free testing and not go to a pharmacy to receive a free test.