Covid Australia: Experts told states to stockpile rapid tests last year

An emergency management specialist says he warned the states to stockpile rapid tests last year and was told “we don’t need it”.

An Australian disaster management expert has revealed states and territories rejected advice on the need to stockpile rapid antigen tests last year.

Dr Ian Norton, Respond Global founder and former head of the World Health Organisation’s emergency medical team, says he warned leaders in each state and territory about the need for the tests and if they had listened, our current shortage could have been avoided.

“We were saying we understand right now you are chasing elimination, which is fantastic, but let’s please prepare just in case, because at the moment we know the stocks are dwindling around the world,” Dr Norton told 2GB radio.

The response he said he got back: “We don’t need it”.

“Why would we be so arrogant in a way to say we don’t need tests that huge amounts of the rest of the world have used by the million each week?” Dr Norton said.

He pointed out the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) had seen the tests as an added tool in the toolbox “months and months ago”.

He said he had spoken to the former director of the US’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who said the tests were one of the most useful tools during one of the country’s big outbreaks in the early days of the pandemic.

Dr Norton also told A Current Affair he felt there wasn’t a preparedness approach in Australia.

“We had our chance to stockpile early and we lost that chance, now we’re fighting with huge orders from other countries,” he said.

Dr Norton was most concerned about access to rapid antigen tests for emergency workers.

He said conversations with the federal government about using the tests for screening in aged care settings had been successful, and took to the states to share the need in other industries.

Rapid antigen test supply chaos

Demand for the at-home kits increased as Australia’s Covid cases surged during the Omicorn outbreak and testing requirements changed to involve the more use of rapid antigen tests.

Changes to PCR test requirements were announced last week by Prime Minister Scott Morrison to alleviate the strain on testing centres, where Australians were lining up for hours.

Mr Morrison said stocks of rapid antigen tests were on their way, but warned over the next few weeks there would likely continue to be “a lot of tension in the system” when it comes to supply and demand.

On Wednesday, it was revealed the federal government quietly put out an urgent tender for rapid antigen tests.

Five tenders for RATs worth just under $62 million were published on the AusTender website by the Department of Health, with “extreme urgency or unforeseen events” listed as the reason for the limited tender.

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