Hunt doubles down on Qld rapid test claims

Greg Hunt says claims of the government 'commandeering' RAT supplies have been referred to the ACCC.
Greg Hunt says claims of the government 'commandeering' RAT supplies have been referred to the ACCC.

Health Minister Greg Hunt has doubled down on denials that rapid antigen tests have been requisitioned by the Commonwealth, as supplies remain scarce.

Queensland Transport Minister Mark Bailey this week published a letter from a supplier claiming the federal government "commandeered" 34,000 rapid antigen tests originally destined for the state's rail staff.

In a further post on Saturday, a screenshot appears to show a known supplier reached an agreement to provide rapid tests to the federal health department as part of a $26.29 million contract.

"Either the Morrison govt has commandeered the stock using emergency powers, or they've swooped in late with a big money procurement offer of $26.29 million that a supplier couldn't refuse given the massive profit margin offered," Mr Bailey tweeted.

But Mr Hunt slapped down allegations federal authorities had diverted the tests from the Queensland government.

"The claims that were made about the Commonwealth are false. They had been referred to the ACCC (Australian Competition & Consumer Commission) because they are false," he told reporters.

"I have confirmed with the Department of Health, the Commonwealth has not received and is not expecting to receive any supply from that supplier until at least February 7."

He said the federal government is providing 200,000 rapid antigen tests to Queensland on Saturday, and rejected suggestions it did not plan well enough to meet surging demand amid the Omicron wave.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the government was warned months ago of the need for widely available RATs.

"This government simply didn't prepare properly," he said in Launceston, ahead of visiting a local chemist amid the rapid test shortage.

It comes as Australia moves to scrap the requirement for international arrivals to show a negative PCR test and will instead accept a rapid antigen result.

Current regulations require overseas travellers to return a negative PCR test taken up to three days before their flight, but from 1am on Sunday, arrivals can provide a negative RAT within 24 hours of boarding.

The change is consistent with domestic measures, where RATs are accepted as a diagnostic tool.

The time a person is banned from entering the country after testing positive to COVID-19 has also been cut in half, from 14 days to seven, bringing it in line with domestic isolation requirements.

But quarantine requirements upon entry remain subject to state and territory restrictions.

Mr Hunt said the changes were "important steps" to help bring Australians home.

Meanwhile, the COVID death toll is continuing to climb across the nation, with 64 more reported on Saturday.

Tasmania notched its second virus-related fatality since the state reopened the border to the mainland in December.

State Health Minister Jeremy Rockliff said the person had a range of medical conditions and was extremely unwell when admitted to Mersey Community Hospital in Latrobe on Thursday.

He believes they were unvaccinated.

Ten more deaths were reported in Queensland, while SA had three.

Across the country, there were 20,148 cases in NSW, 16,016 in Victoria, 15,050 in Queensland, 2193 in South Australia, 726 in Tasmania, 666 in the ACT, 314 in the Northern Territory and 11 in Western Australia.

The NT is managing 4048 active cases with Health Minister Natasha Fyles expressing concern about small outbreaks in a growing number of communities in Central Australia.

As a result, lockouts for for Alice Springs, the Amoonguna community, Yuendumu and Yuelamu will be extended for seven days.

Meanwhile, Mr Hunt says there are "real signs" Omicron has peaked in NSW, and the nation's Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer Alison McMillan is optimistic hospitalisations will soon start falling.

Australian Associated Press