The Guardian • Issue #1993

RAT stoush worsens amid continuing shortages

  • by E Lennon
  • The Guardian
  • Issue #1993

Rapid antigen tests (RATs) are still proving hard to get a hold of across the country.

Since the Liberal Party made the decision for Australia to “live with the virus”, leaders have shirked responsibility at every turn.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) released a statement earlier in January, admonishing the Morrison Government for ignoring medical experts, unions, and businesses.

“Every Australian has been affected by the Morrison Government’s failure to secure a reliable supply of RATs. It is shameful that it is easier for Australians to catch COVID than it is to find a test kit,” ACTU Secretary, Sally McManus said.

“We can limit admissions to hospitals, keep workplaces open and supply chains operating if we have free and accessible RATs. It appears that instead of moving on this issue, the Prime Minister wants to move on workers’ health and safety rights.

“It is not the time to be stubborn, it’s the time to respond to the voices of workers, employers and the community who all want this issue sorted, so we can have confidence in our ability to keep safe and manage this pandemic.”

Rumours and accusations have swirled as corporations and governments scramble to secure RAT supplies.

In mid-January, South Australian Premier Steven Marshall called for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to investigate claims that other state governments were interfering with RAT supplies.

“South Australians have every right to be outraged if these allegations are correct,” the Premier told radio station, FIVEaa.

“We know there is a global shortage, we’ve got to be doing everything we can to make sure we’ve got the right access in South Australia, and if there has been any interference that is quite frankly outrageous.”

Both New South Wales and Victoria’s governments have denied the claims.

Other rumours circled that the government was redirecting tests away from corporations. It released a statement saying that the reports were false.

“These claims are categorically untrue. They have also been made in relation to at least one state government and will be a matter for the ACCC,” the statement read.

“Supplies of RAT kits are not being redirected to the Commonwealth and at no time has the Department sought to place itself ahead of other commercial and retail entities.

“Where such claims have been made, the Department has written to the relevant retailer to reassure them that is not the case and seek further detail or evidence of the claims made by suppliers.”

While the government may not be intercepting any RAT orders, suppliers are prioritising the Commonwealth’s large orders.

National Pharmacy Guild President, Professor Trent Twomey said that the guild’s members are struggling to keep up with consumer demand as a result.

“What’s happening is that it’s much easier for suppliers to deal with one customer who wants 100,000 tests than 1,000. So, what we are seeing is manufacturers [and suppliers] preferencing larger clients over smaller clients,” Prof Twomey said.

It’s no surprise that between federal and state governments, corporations, and small businesses fighting it out for the tests, issues such as price gouging have become rife.

The ACCC has been left to deal with the fallout as it investigates outrageous marked up prices.

“At the extreme end, we have received reports or seen media coverage of tests costing up to $500 for two tests through online marketplaces, and over $70 per test through convenience stores, service stations and independent supermarkets, which is clearly outrageous,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

“There are several businesses that have repeatedly come to our notice thanks to the information provided by the public. We are asking those businesses to urgently explain the prices they are charging.”

In states with outbreaks, the challenge to provide the testing kits has added another layer of back-to-school stress on teachers, staff, and parents.

The President of the NSW Teachers’ Federation, Angelo Gavrielatos has come out saying that he has concerns for the health and safety of students, staff, as well as families.

“That is why we have, and will continue to insist, that the implementation of risk mitigation strategies, such as RATs, masks, improved ventilation and cohorting, is as robust as it can be,” Gavrielatos said.

“And there’s a good reason for that. How many other jobs require you to be on a worksite with literally hundreds of people, in some instances up to 2,000, stuck in restricted, often poorly ventilated spaces (classrooms) with up to thirty people?”

“We will be closely monitoring the effectiveness of the risk mitigation strategies with a view to seeking urgent adjustments, should they be necessary, to ensure the greatest amount of protection can be offered to our students and staff.”

Both state and federal government plans for “living with the virus” have resulted in chaos, uncertainty, and fear.

In an interview for the ABC’s Radio National Breakfast, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce blamed Australians for hoarding tests.

The program’s host, Patricia Karvelas pointed out the government’s responsibility to secure enough tests and deliver them to vulnerable Australians.

In response, Joyce doubled down and said that it is in fact not the government’s job to be “Nostradamus” and predict what will happen.

However, the Australian Medical Association has revealed that it warned governments to secure RATs before removing restrictions and reopening the country.

It is concerning that someone who holds such a senior governing position cannot comprehend the basics of leadership, which includes anticipating the needs of a country’s most vulnerable people and the population more broadly.

“We’re buying RATs. It’s not like they haven’t been here. We’ve been bringing them in. They’ve been hoarded,” said Joyce.

“I’m blaming the fact that we’ve got a virus out there and people have been buying not what they require but more than they need. A lot of the time it’s businesses who buy up more than they require.”

Joyce’s attitude clearly shows that he is more interested in protecting the current government’s terrible choices, than the health and safety of the Australian working class.

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