CANBERRA, Jan 3: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has ruled out the government funding free rapid coronavirus tests. Morrison said on Monday that the federal government cannot afford to continue spending on preventing the spread of COVID-19 at the same rate it did in 2020 and 2021.
"We've invested hundreds of billions of dollars getting Australia through this crisis," Morrison told Seven Network television. "But we're now in a stage of the pandemic, where you can't just make everything free because 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."
It comes amid growing pressure on the government to subsidize rapid antigen tests (RATs) for Australians with infections surging across the country.
There have been widespread reports of price gouging on RATs amid supply shortfalls, while the wait times for results of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests have blown out to upwards of 72 hours. Anthony Albanese, leader of the Opposition Labor Party, on Monday ramped-up criticism of the government's response to Omicron outbreaks, claiming cases were going undiagnosed.
"With months and months to prepare, from a pandemic that has been going for two years, it is unbelievable the government has told people to not go and get tested but to test themselves with a rapid antigen test that isn't available and isn't affordable," he said. "This is a public policy failure the like of which we haven't seen in this country before."
Australia on Monday morning reported a record of more than 37,000 locally-acquired COVID-19 infections - more than the county had in all of 2020 - and eight deaths. As of the end of 2021, 94.3 percent of Australians aged 16 and over had received at least one vaccine dose and 91.3 percent were fully inoculated.