Prime Minister Scott Morrison has brushed off growing calls to make rapid antigen tests freely available in the wake of rising Omicron cases.
Despite COVID-19 case numbers exploding in recent days and hospitalisations also rising, Mr Morrison said the rapid tests would not be rolled out for free to the public.
“We’re now in a stage of the pandemic where you can’t just go around making everything free,” he told the Seven Network on Monday.
“When someone tells you they want to make something free, someone’s always going to pay for it, and it’s going to be you.”
Health Minister Greg Hunt said more than 100 million rapid tests were coming into the country in the next two months.
While states and territories have ordered 84 million of the rapid tests, which will be made available in coming weeks, Mr Hunt also reiterated the tests won’t be made free to everyone.
“If there was an unconstrained flow of completely unpriced products, so there was an infinite supply to an infinite number of people, there of course that demand couldn’t be met,” he told reporters in Melbourne.
“On top of the 55 million PCR tests, we will have over 100 million rapid antigen tests … available over the course of the next two months.”
The rapid tests will only be made free to those who require a test in order for work, such as those in aged care.
Talks are under way on subsidising the costs of the tests for concession card holders.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the government had failed to prepare for a shift away from PCR testing and called for rapid–antigen tests to be made more available.
“(The government) has moved away from PCR testing because of the debacle when it came to people queuing for hours on hours, without putting in place access to rapid antigen tests for the population,” he told ABC Radio.
“Certainly no one should be excluded from getting a rapid antigen test because of their income.”
Amid reports business were undertaking price gouging of rapid tests, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he had been in talks with the national consumer watchdog on measures to prevent exorbitant prices.
It comes as 20,794 new COVID-19 cases were detected in the past reporting period in NSW, with a further four deaths.
There are now 1204 patients with COVID-19 in NSW hospitals, with 95 of them in intensive care.
Victoria reached a new daily record for COVID-19 cases, with 8577 infections and a further three deaths.
There are 491 hospitalisations from the virus in the state, with 56 active cases in intensive care and 24 of those on a ventilator.
Tasmania registered 466 new cases, another record day of infections for the state, while the ACT also set a one-day high of 514 cases on Monday.
Meanwhile, Queensland reached a record of 4249 new infections and one death, with 10 people in the state in intensive care and one of those on a ventilator.
Mr Hunt said while case numbers were surging, the number of COVID-19 patients in ventilators in hospital has decreased from 54 to 51 in the past three weeks.
“It is now clear Omicron is both more transmissible and less severe,” he said.
“What that means is that the risk is not of hospital beds or places being overwhelmed, but always in terms of balancing the workforce.”
It comes as the government secured 46,000 doses of Sotrovimab, a COVID-19 treatment.
The treatment is used to prevent severe conditions from being developed in people who have mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms.
The new doses will bring the national stockpile of the treatment to 81,000.