(Natural News) Australia has insisted on using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to find people positive for the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19). With PCR tests costing as high as 85 Australian dollars per person, Canberra has spent more than AU$1 billion (US$738 million) for this alone. While rapid antigen tests are much cheaper and display results faster, the Australian government has continued to prohibit their use in the country.
PCR tests that require laboratory processing were the only COVID-19 tests available to the general public. However, Daily Mail Australia said that PCR tests cost Australian taxpayers between AU$42.50 (US$31) and AU$85 (US$62). On the other hand, other countries worldwide adopted rapid antigen tests that cost as low as AU$15 (US$11) and produce results in just minutes.
The expensive PCR tests led to renewed calls for Canberra and state governments to explore the use of rapid antigen tests in tandem with the more expensive counterpart. Advocates said running PCR tests alongside rapid antigen tests can quickly identify potential COVID-19 carriers.
John Kelly, managing director at rapid test manufacturer Atomo Diagnostics, said on July 26 that the high cost of PCR tests negatively affected Australia's most vulnerable. He told the DailyMail: "The number of PCR tests being made available to screen workers in aged care has been severely limited due to cost." Kelly added that while PCR tests could only be used twice or thrice a month, rapid tests could be used every two days due to their lower cost.
Kelly also pointed to studies done by the U.S. National Institutes of Health that said frequent rapid testing is a more effective way to manage COVID-19 risk in environments such as aged care homes. "The benefit of also getting results at the time of the test is invaluable. Finding out [that] a worker has [COVID-19] the day after they have worked a shift while infectious is just too late," he said.
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However, a spokeswoman for the Australian Department of Health told the Daily Mail that it continues to support PCR testing. "COVID-19 pathology testing remains an important part of the strategy to contain the spread of [SARS-CoV-2], with testing at no charge to patients forming a central part of the Australian government's COVID-19 response," she said.
The spokeswoman added that the government and pathology laboratories, both public and private, "have successfully worked together on delivering COVID-19 pathology testing throughout the pandemic." Canberra provided financial support for COVID-19 testing through the National Partnership on COVID-19 Response, with state and territory health departments providing the majority of tests.
The partnership sees all state and territory governments provide for free COVID-19 testing to people in Australia, regardless of their eligibility under the country's Medicare universal health insurance. These include all Australian citizens, permanent residents and visa holders. Those ineligible for Medicare can also avail of free COVID-19 testing under the partnership.
It also stipulates that the Australian federal government will fund 50 percent of COVID-19 testing in public health facilities. The support from Canberra guarantees that laboratories that process PCR tests make a fortune. Indeed, these laboratories are "rolling in cash," sources tell the Daily Mail.
Australia's continued use of PCR tests contrasted with recent guidance issued to U.S. laboratories. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a July 21 announcement that it would withdraw support for PCR testing from Dec. 31 due to accuracy concerns. "CDC encourages laboratories to consider adoption of a multiplexed method that can facilitate detection and differentiation of SARS-CoV-2 and influenza viruses," the announcement continued.
However, the use of PCR tests to determine if someone is ill from COVID-19 has been under fire. Critics have alleged that no PCR instruments used for these kinds of tests can produce quantitative results that might indicate a specific viral load. This made the PCR test unsuitable for diagnosing if anyone is ill or has caught COVID-19.