Self-testing kits to be available at pharmacies, convenience stores within weeks

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People will be able to purchase self-testing kits for COVID-19 from pharmacies, convenience stores or online in about a month after the country’s medical regulator announced it was approving them for home use by November 1.

It hinges on individual tests being approved for home use, however, and their cost will not be subsidised. States and territories also have to work out how they would use or monitor the tests.

Rapid antigen tests are being conducted on-site by some big employers.Credit:Kate Geraghty

Health Minister Greg Hunt said he was “delighted” to confirm the country’s medical regulator had approved rapid antigen tests for home use starting from November.

“This is an important additional protection for Australians,” he said. “My hope is [they will be available] as soon as possible after November 1.”

It comes after the minister told this masthead the federal government was eager for self-testing to become another layer in the community’s protection against the pandemic as states and territories begin to ease restrictions.

So far there have been 72 applications to the Therapeutic Goods Administration for home use approval of rapid antigen tests. So far none have been approved for home use.

“The TGA at my request has been going through a thorough assessment. They will now move to make these tests available from 1 November and two steps additionally,” Mr Hunt said.

“One is that we have to have individual applications approved, specific tests have to be shown to be safe and effective.

“The second thing is to ensure that each of the states and territories is in a position to accept that, but from a national perspective home testing will be available from 1 November.”

Therapeutic Goods Administration head Professor John Skerritt told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday home tests would be available for people to buy “on the internet to pharmacies, convenience stores, whatever channels they want to get”.

Professor Skerritt said he was confident some of the home tests would be approved by November.

“We’re working very actively with a range of companies, because the current tests are designed for professional use,” he said. “I do believe companies will be ready. But I don’t think they’ll be ready a long time before November.”

Rapid antigen tests were currently used in “a very wide range of industries”, Professor Skerritt said, but they were not currently designed for use by individual consumers, and the instructions needed to be made more consumer-friendly.

“The current tests that are being used in a number of businesses – banks, construction sites, transport companies … are not designed for use by someone without training,” Professor Skerritt told the Senate COVID-19 committee on Tuesday morning.

Professor Skerritt said some jurisdictions might decide to put in public health orders making it an offence not to report a positive antigen test to health authorities.

NSW Deputy Chief Health Officer Marianne Gale said rapid antigen testing would be “part of a toolkit” of measures in managing COVID-19 going forward, but specifics such as how these tests would be reported had not yet been figured out, noting getting the results from at-home tests “may be operationally challenging”.

“We’ll be looking at those issues and looking at what practical settings [for the tests] actually makes sense as we go forward in a setting where we have to treat COVID like an endemic disease, more like flu,” she said.

Department of Health secretary Professor Brendan Murphy said earlier in the pandemic it was important to stick with the gold-standard PCR [polymerase chain reaction] testing to pick up all cases in the community.

“It’s only now, only now that we have community transmission and we’re starting to transition to living with COVID, that these [rapid antigen] tests are applicable,” he told the COVID committee. “We are pulling out all stops, to get the regulatory approval done as quickly as possible.”

With Mary Ward

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