Vulnerable Australians are being forced into “hiding at home” and lower-income workers are skipping meals because of the cost of rapid Covid tests, unions and welfare charities warn, as they plead with the Morrison government to reverse its opposition to providing free testing kits for all.
Despite the government’s recent move to make rapid antigen tests tax deductible, a coalition of advocacy groups including the Australian Council of Social Services (Acoss) and the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) warn the tax write-off plan provides a greater discount to higher-income earners.
The groups also argue the existing concessional access scheme – which provides up to 10 free RATs over three months to eligible recipients and is loss-making for some pharmacists – has not done enough to allow all Australians to access tests when they need them.
The ACTU will on Monday deliver a petition to parliament calling for free and accessible RATs for all Australians. より多い 150,000 people had signed the petition by Sunday night.
Michele O’Neil, the ACTU president, said making rapid testing kits free for everyone was “the only way we’re going to keep workplaces and the wider community safe from Omicron, and alleviate at least some of the immense stress being placed on our healthcare workers”.
“Low-income workers have been on the frontline of this pandemic from the very beginning. It is unfair that they are having to shoulder the burden of paying for their own rapid antigen tests, just so they can keep themselves, their workplaces and their loved ones safe,” O’Neil said.
The Acoss chief executive, カサンドラ・ゴールディ, said “for many the decision to buy a RAT means a missed meal or a bill that can’t be paid on time – those are real-time decisions which cannot be put off”.
“People who have the least have borne the brunt of this pandemic for over two years. But the government’s announcement last week to give tax deductions for Covid tests gives greater assistance to those on higher incomes.”
The ACTU and Acoss, together with charities including the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia, 公衆 健康 Association Australia, Public Health Association Australia, St Vincent de Paul Society, Anglicare, Uniting Care, and Catholic Social Services Australia, have also issued a joint statement backing the plea.
“The current distribution model centred on private retail sales to individuals and businesses is not fit for purpose. It leaves too many behind and too often the financial means of people will determine whether they have adequate access to RATs,」声明は言った.
“People at risk are hiding at home, unable to know who is safe; workers are expected to put themselves in harm’s way without access to tests; concession card holders struggle to access the limited number of RATs notionally allocated to them," と言いました.
The groups argue the government should follow the UK and US in providing free kits for the entire community.
“The move to large-scale RAT testing has been beset with problems including reliance on market forces to ration inadequate supply, slow delivery, the PCR testing system collapsing under the weight of overwhelming demand, and price gouging from elements of the retail distribution network,” the groups said.
Rapid antigen kits became the recommended Covid testing option in many states when PCR lab capacity became overwhelmed in December.
The Morrison government has resisted calls to make kits free for all Australians, instead requiring people to meet criteria for the tests at testing hubs, or else purchase the tests themselves.
In addition to the tax deduction and concessional card holder schemes, in late January the government made it possible for National Disability Insurance Scheme participants to dip into their core funding to purchase rapid antigen tests for themselves and their support workers.
A spokeswoman for health minister Greg Hunt, when asked why the government does not provide universal free testing kits, ガーディアンオーストラリアに語った: “we reject the premise of the question that we oppose free rapid antigen tests for all Australians.”
“All Australians can currently access a free rapid antigen test through state run testing hubs if they have symptoms or are a close contact,” the spokeswoman said, noting the Commonwealth funds half of the costs of RATs provided in these settings.
The spokeswoman also noted the government’s provision of 11.5m free RATs to residential aged care facilities since August last year, its concession card holder scheme – which he said had so far provided 8.3m kits to 2 million Australians – as well as the newly announced tax deductibility of RATs for workers.
1月に, the consumer watchdog referred retailers charging “beyond outrageous” prices for rapid antigen tests to the federal police for investigation.