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Thousands register for free RATs as national COVID cases spike

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Australia has surpassed another grim milestone with daily COVID-19 case numbers exploding across the eastern states, as 10,000 South Australians register to receive free rapid antigen tests on the opening day of the government’s new park lands distribution site.

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More than 92,264 new COVID-19 infections were reported in New South Wales this morning – up from  34,759 yesterday – after residents rushed to post positive results from rapid antigen tests (RATs) since the start of the year.

However, NSW Health cautioned that some of the new cases included people reporting positive RATs on multiple days and possible follow-up positive PCR tests.

The eastern state reported 22 COVID-19 deaths, while 182 people are currently being treated in intensive care.

Meanwhile, Victoria recorded 37,169 new COVID-19 cases and 25 deaths, setting a new record of daily fatalities for the state.

Queensland recorded 14,914 cases and six deaths and Tasmania 1100 new cases. There were 1020 new cases in the ACT and 550 in the Northern Territory.

Premier Steven Marshall is expected to announce South Australia’s case numbers at a press conference later this afternoon.

The rise in cases comes as parts of the country move towards mandatory reporting of positive RAT results, with NSW, Victoria and South Australia now imposing fines of up to $1000 on those who fail to report infections.

Traffic was banked up along Goodwood and Greenhill roads early this morning as people flocked to the State Government’s new and only RAT distribution site at Josie Agius/Wikaparntu Wirra Park (Park 22) in the south park lands to collect free tests.

The queues eased later in the morning after an initial rush, with members of the public reporting wait-times of only a few minutes.

People flocked to the park lands RAT distribution site early in the morning. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Only asymptomatic people who have been identified as close contacts of positive COVID-19 cases since Wednesday this week are eligible to receive two free rapid antigen tests (RATs) for days one and six of isolation at the park lands site.

They must register themselves and any other close contacts living at their house through the SA Health website and wait for confirmation before they can collect their tests.

The site has the capacity to hand out tests to about 13,000 people and will close at 9pm.

State emergency coordinator and SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens told ABC Radio Adelaide this morning that 10,000 people had registered to collect tests from the site on its opening day.

He said at about 8.45 this morning there was an approximate 10-minute wait between joining the queue and entering the site.

Stevens, who tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month and leaves home quarantine tomorrow, said it would only take a couple of minutes for people to pick up their tests once they entered the site.

“This is a new process, but things are going reasonably well at the moment and there’s always the option of people going to get a PCR test if they think the queues are too long,” he said.

“There is that Victoria Park site for PCRs and my advice at the moment is the wait-time for PCRs is about 45 minutes, so things are going pretty well this morning.”

The State Government is in negotiations with about nine councils across metropolitan and regional South Australia to set up 12 additional RAT distribution points to ease pressure on the park lands site.

Stevens said the government aimed to have those sites open within the next four to five days and encouraged asymptomatic close contacts to get RATs to reduce queuing at PCR testing sites.

Under new directions issued last night, people must only seek PCR testing if they have COVID-19 symptoms, have been directed to by SA Health, or are required to under emergency management directions.

People who require testing for interstate or overseas travel, or who have returned a positive RAT test are also allowed to receive a PCR test under the new rules.

“This shift towards rapid antigen tests becomes necessary as you have more and more cases within the community and the reliability of the rapid antigen test results becomes more effective,” Stevens said.

“When you do have positive cases your ability to rely on a positive RAT in terms of being confident that there’s COVID-19 present is higher with the more cases you have in the community.

“That’s the advice that we get from SA Health (and) on the basis the decision was made to free up rapid antigen tests in South Australia.”

More close contacts allowed to leave quarantine to work

New rules issued by Stevens last night allow asymptomatic workers from 14 industries to leave quarantine to work if they are deemed close contacts of positive cases.

The new rules only apply to workers who need to leave quarantine to “maintain a function critical to the South Australian community”.

To leave quarantine, workers must be isolated from the positive COVID-19 case while not at work, be fully vaccinated (including with a booster shot if eligible), and have received a PCR test before arriving at work.

The industries impacted include:

“The requirement to return such critical or essential workers to the workforce during quarantine periods has already been seen and supported in health care, disability care and aged care,” a SA Health document says.

“Allowing close contacts who are critical/essential workers to continue working needs to be balanced with the risk of further disease transmission in worksites which could lead to even greater disruption than what was originally being sought to be addressed.

“To trigger this process, the workforce capacity to maintain a function needs to be under significant strain and alternative options for support need to first be exhausted.”

It foreshadows a national cabinet discussion today about expanding the number of industries and workers who are exempt from close contact quarantine requirements.

– with AAP

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