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South park lands to host first rapid test pickup site


The State Government will establish a collection centre in the southern park lands for COVID close contacts to pick up free rapid antigen tests from tomorrow, although the health minister concedes there are likely to be “teething problems” as the site grapples with high demand.

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The state’s first distribution centre for the rapid antigen tests will offer two free tests to those deemed close contacts of COVID cases.

The free tests will not be available to the general public.

Close contacts who receive a free RAT at the southern park lands site will be required to enter their results into SA Health’s system.

Health Minister Stephen Wade said more distribution sites would come online “over the next week”.

“Now is the time to segue from RATs being a surveillance tool to being a diagnostic tool in itself,” he told ABC Radio this morning.

“As of tomorrow, people will be able to pick up a RAT test if they’re a close contact and the RAT test itself will be confirmation of their COVID status.”

Premier Steven Marshall provided more details about the centre this afternoon and announced that South Australia had recorded another 3715 cases and seven deaths.

Wade insisted the shift to distributing RAT tests is “not being driven by the [testing] system not being able to cope”, and said ongoing delays at South Australia’s PCR testing sites are “nothing like we’re seeing interstate”.

However, he conceded there will likely be early issues with the RAT distribution centre as it responds to surging demand for tests.

“I fully expect that there will be teething problems – it’s very difficult to predict the demand,” he said.

“We’re very keen to be responsive but we do ask the community to be patient.”

South Australia is currently managing more than 33,00 active COVID-19 cases, although only 2921 cases were reported on Tuesday – down from three straight days of more than 4000 infections.

However, the number of tests conducted on Monday also dropped to 18,433 as hot weather forced the closure of several metropolitan testing sites.

Monday was only the second time this year the state’s daily testing number has dropped below 20,000.

Labor today called for the State Government to make reporting of RAT results to be mandatory, as has been done in New South Wales and Victoria.

“If we don’t have an accurate picture of COVID cases – including where people testing positive to rapid antigen tests – we won’t know where they might have caught it and who might be close contacts, making it very difficult to limit the spread of the virus,” shadow treasury spokesperson Stephen Mullighan said.

“If people don’t have to report positive results then SA Health won’t know who has it and whether they are getting the health care they need.”

Wade, asked whether the lower testing rate was providing an inaccurate picture, said the number of people in hospital with the virus is “consistent with the level of disease that the testing regime suggests”.

SA’s COVID hospital admissions increased from 188 to 211 people on Tuesday, forcing the State Government to make further changes to free up bed capacity in the state’s public hospitals.

Some non-COVID public hospital patients will be transferred to private wards for treatment and surgeries while the Lyell McEwin and Flinders Medical Centre are now each preparing to host 100 dedicated inpatient beds for COVID patients.

The Royal Adelaide Hospital will also make patient flow changes to boost its COVID bed capacity from 200 to 300 beds. It comes on top of a temporary suspension of “non-urgent” elective surgery announced last month.

The State Government says local health networks are now undertaking “detailed planning” to determine which services and beds can be moved to other sites to free up capacity, with the overall changes to culminate in an additional 500 dedicated COVID beds and 60 ICU spots.

There are currently 22 people in intensive care and four on a ventilator in South Australia. There have been 15 COVID-positive deaths during the state’s Omicron outbreak.

Wade said the Omicron outbreak – which has not yet peaked – had exceeded the state’s hospital capacity modelling which focused on the Delta variant.

“In relation to Delta, we were anticipating that the Royal Adelaide Hospital would be the COVID-positive dedicated hospital with about 200 inpatient capacity,” he said.

“But with the updated Omicron plan we’ll be using significantly three of the tertiary hospitals – the RAH, the Lyell McEwin and Flinders Medical Centre – for adults, with a total of 500 beds.

“That’s made possible by our partnership with the private hospitals, we stopped non-urgent surgery a couple of weeks ago, so we’ll be able to draw on their inpatient capacity.”

The health minister said he was now “very confident” the new plan will meet the projected hospital requirements at the peak of the outbreak.

42 COVID deaths in NSW and Victoria

South Australia’s plan to boost COVID ward capacity comes with public hospitals in New South Wales and Victoria under increasing strain.

A total of 42 COVID-19 deaths were recorded across the two jurisdictions today – 21 in each state.

Victoria reported 40,127 new infections overnight and is currently managing just under 210,000 active cases.

The number of people in hospital with the virus in Victoria jumped from 861 to 946, with 112 people in ICU and 31 requiring ventilators.

Almost 4000 hospital workers and 442 Ambulance Victoria staff were unable to work on Monday due to contracting COVID-19 or being close contacts of positive cases.

On Tuesday, Ambulance Victoria issued its second code red alert in a week due to the “extremely high demand for ambulances” in Melbourne.

Meanwhile, in NSW, 2242 people are in hospital with the virus, 175 of them in intensive care.

The state recorded 34,759 cases from 134,411 PCR tests on Tuesday, meaning one in four people tested returned a positive result, although authorities suspect the true number of infections is higher with positive rapid antigen tests not included in the numbers.

In response, the NSW Government today announced that residents must now report any positive results they receive from a rapid test.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said the change to the testing regime is not just about tracking numbers, but is about ensuring NSW Health understands who has underlying conditions and may need more care.

From Wednesday, residents aged 16 and over will have 24 hours to report their positive results to authorities using the ServiceNSW app or website.

“The app is seamless … it will only take a couple of minutes,” Perrottet said.

Residents will need to report each positive result, unless they’ve tested positive on a PCR test within the previous four weeks.

They will also have to provide information about whether they have underlying conditions.

The penalty in NSW for failing to register the result is a $1000 fine, with enforcement to start from January 19.

 – with AAP

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