NSW will introduce Covid-19 rapid antigen testing across aged care facilities in greater Sydney in a bid to identify cases before they escalate into outbreaks.
The commonwealth announced on Sunday it would roll out the new testing at the Uniting Bankstown Aged Care Facility on Monday, and then continue the program at other facilities that express interest.
Rapid antigen testing (RAT) – which can test for Covid-19 and deliver a result in just 15 minutes – has been the source of much debate in Australian parliament, with some politicians urging the country should have adopted the approach sooner.
Rapid antigen testing has been widely used across Europe and the United States since the start of the year.
But in Victoria, the push has been totally shut down with the state’s chief health officer Brett Sutton saying PCR tests were the “gold standard” and rapid antigen testing would not “provide much additional value”.
However, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the rapid testing in NSW aged care facilities would allow “fast Covid-19 screening” of people who were more vulnerable against coronavirus and it’s deadly variants.
It comes as Sydney’s Covid-19 outbreak worsened on Saturday when the state posted a record 466 new local cases and four more people also lost their lives to the virus.
“Given the rate at which we know the Delta variant can be spread between people, the very fast turnaround of RAT – around 15 minutes – makes these tests useful in preventing asymptomatic transmission and outbreaks as they can be used on a daily basis,” Mr Hunt said.
“Sadly, the pandemic’s toll in Australia last year was highest among aged care residents.
“That is why, along with increased infection control training and vaccinations, we are looking at further innovations such as RAT to provide an additional layer of protection for the most vulnerable Australians.”
Respond Global was selected to lead the rollout of the rapid testing program after a competitive tender process.
It was is anticipated that as the program expanded, three more suppliers would also supply their tests for use.
Aged care workers or visitors to a nursing home who returned a positive result to a RAT test – or who had coronavirus symptoms – would not be allowed entry into the facility
They would then be required to have a PCR diagnostic test “as soon as possible” to confirm their Covid-19 status.
It comes after the commonwealth trialled RAT at the Whiddon Residential Aged Care Facility in Glenfield.
“One of the key findings of this trial was that it gave workers more confidence that they were safe to come to work and were not putting themselves, their fellow workers and the residents at risk,” Mr Hunt said.
More than 577,655 Covid-19 vaccines have been administered in aged care and disability care facilities across Australia.