Thousands of people have called on the federal government to make COVID-19 rapid antigen tests free for everyone, as a new vaccine officially joins the national rollout.
A petition of more than 150,000 signatures was tabled in parliament on Monday demanding universal access to the tests.
While the coalition has made rapid antigen tests free for concession card holders, there have been growing calls to make the tests free for everyone.
Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neil, who delivered the petition to parliament, said the tests should be free to ease the financial burden on workers in frontline industries.
“RATs are a critical part of health care for our entire population and should be free and accessible for anyone who needs them,” she said.
“Once again, Australia is lagging behind other developed countries in our response to the pandemic.”
Access to rapid antigen tests became a major issue during the peak of the Omicron wave, due to rising case numbers and test kit shortages.
While the supply of the tests has improved, Ms O’Neil said employees who need tests regularly to attend work should not have to fork out large amounts of money.
“The costs being incurred by low paid workers who are required to buy their own tests are appalling,” she said.
“The Morrison government’s repeated reminders that some of those tests might be tax deductible are a callous show of disrespect for workers who are carrying us through this crisis.”
Meanwhile, Monday marks the start of the rollout of Novavax vaccines in Australia.
The vaccine is the fifth to be approved in Australia by the medical regulator and is the first protein-based vaccine to be in use.
While vaccination rates across the country are high, health officials have said a large number of people were waiting for the Novavax option to become available,
Infectious diseases expert Dr Nick Coatsworth said he expected a good uptake of Novavax.
“Around about five per cent of the population may have been holding out for this,” he told the Nine Network on Monday.
“I am expecting a big take-up amongst those who have been uncertain about the mRNA vaccine.”
There were 16 COVID-related deaths reported on Monday, with 14 in NSW and two in Victoria.
There were also 13,696 new cases, of which 7104 were in Victoria, 6186 in NSW and 408 in Tasmania.