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New testing requirements loom for close contacts as SA records another 3493 cases

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Close contacts of South Australian COVID cases will be able to be tested using rapid antigen kits in coming days to take the pressure off long queues at PCR testing stations, Premier Steven Marshall has announced as the state recorded another 3493 cases today.

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In what Marshall described as a “slight uptick” in both cases and hospitalisations, 125 people were in hospital with COVID-19, 12 of whom are in intensive care – the same number as yesterday.

One of those remains on a ventilator.

While New South Wales and Victoria continued to record huge rises in COVID cases, Marshall said SA was not yet seeing “the rapid rise we’ve seen in some other jurisdictions”, insisting hospital demand was “well within our current capacity”.

Despite the closure yesterday of several Clinpath sites, the state saw 21,097 PCR tests administered yesterday, but Marshall said a looming change to requirements for close contacts of confirmed cases would further ease burgeoning queues.

“Sometime within the next week we are likely to move to RAT [rapid antigen tests] for close contacts,” he said.

“We are [currently] asking close contacts to have PCR tests – we will evolve to a RAT test to preserve PCR tests for those who are symptomatic.

“That will just be for close contacts, not the general population who are symptomatic.”

Marshall said the Government would provide advice “in the next 48 to 72 hours” as to how the new requirement will work.

“They are likely to be collected. People will notify SA health, go online, advise they are a close contact, we will give them a RAT,” he said.

The Premier enthused that SA saw a big increase – by around 20,000 – of people getting vaccinated yesterday, revealing that half those currently in ICU with COVID were “unvaccinated”.

“This is a massive, massive overrepresentation of the general population,” he said.

“This is the proof that we all need that vaccination is absolutely critical.”

As of Monday, 88 per cent of South Australians over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated, while 92.6 per cent have had at least one dose, according to SA Health data.

It comes as states across the country continue to post daily case records, with New South Wales today reporting another 35,054 infections and eight deaths.

The number of people in hospital with the virus in NSW jumped to 1491, up from 1344 on Tuesday, while the number of people in intensive care has risen to 119, up from 105.

Victoria, meanwhile, has recorded 17,636 new COVID-19 cases overnight and 11 deaths.

The state has 591 people in hospital with the virus and 20 on a ventilator.

Nearly one in three of Victoria’s 59,682 tests yesterday returned positive results, and there are currently more than 51,000 active cases in the state.

Queensland reported another record 6781 cases today with 265 in hospital and 10 in ICU, while Tasmania posted 867 cases and the ACT 810.

Meanwhile, national cabinet is this afternoon set to discuss a plan to subsidise rapid antigen tests for people on low incomes amid continued strain on South Australia’s PCR testing sites.

The plan – which is being taken to national cabinet by Prime Minister Scott Morrison who has faced significant criticism from industry and medical groups about insufficient access to RATs – will see welfare recipients and pensioners get cash payments for up to five rapid tests, or more if states also put money on the table.

They would need to meet eligibility requirements to qualify for the subsidy.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison may also today announce the government will provide millions of free RAT kits to be handed out at state and territory testing centres.

SA Health’s morning update on wait times at SA Pathology testing sites showed Victoria Park still experiencing eight-hour queues for non-booked patients and three to four hours for booked patients.

The state’s main drive-through testing clinic reported wait times of up to 10 hours on Tuesday.

Hampstead (four hours), Aldinga (three to four hours) and the Royal Adelaide Hospital (two to three hours) also continue to report long testing queues today, although pressure appears to have

Marshall vowed yesterday that SA Pathology sites would “pick up the slack” after four testing sites from private pathology lab Clinpath closed on Tuesday.

A shipment of 250,000 rapid antigen tests also arrived in South Australia on Tuesday, Marshall said, for use across the state’s vulnerable settings.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet today said the first shipment of five million rapid tests the NSW Government has ordered is due to arrive next week.

“There is no dollar figure that we will not put on the table to ensure, as we move through this next phase, rapid antigen tests are available to anybody right across the state who needs one,” Perrottet said today.

Victorian COVID-19 commander Jeroen Weimar said the first shipment of Victoria’s 34 million ordered rapid antigen tests is also due to arrive next week.

He has also flagged the launch of a website allowing people to upload their RAT results and be officially counted in the daily Victorian numbers once there is confidence of supply.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese today backed calls for the Morrison Government to make RATs free of charge.

“It’s very clear the simplest way to do it is to make tests free and make them available,” he told reporters in Sydney.

“People are crying out for action, the economic consequences of this government’s failure to put in place a proper system are there for all to see.”

-With AAP

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