COVID-19

7442 new cases; more test changes to ease pressure

Victoria has broken another daily case record, annoucing 7442 new Covid infections and nine deaths overnight.Currently, 451 Covid patients are in hospital — a increase on the state’s seven-day average of 706.Fifty-one are receiving intensive care, including 21 on a ventilator.More than 63,000 Victorians queued for a test on a sweltering hot New Year’s Eve.It comes as NSW recorded 22,577 new infections and five deaths.More than 900 NSW Covid patients are in hospital, including 79 in ICU.NED-5250-Victoria’s Covid-19 statisticsMeanwhile, Victorians with Covid-19 could soon upload their positive rapid antigen test result to an online database, removing the need to get a PCR test.Covid-19 commander Jeroen Weimar flagged the change on Friday as several testing clinics were forced to shut due to the blistering heat.Victoria reported a record-high 5919 new cases on New Year’s Eve, with a surge in Omicron infections blamed for the increase.Health Minister Martin Foley said it was expected the majority of cases would be Omicron “very shortly”, that number having “roared up from very little last week”.“I would describe the next month as a significant challenge as Omicron becomes the dominant variant of concern,” he said.Despite the surging caseload, the state government confirmed it would implement new isolation and testing ­requirements announced at national cabinet.Under the new orders, household contacts who do not have symptoms must use a rapid test on day one and six of their isolation period, and those with symptoms must have a PCR test on the first day, before having a rapid test on day six to exit quarantine. It means that the standard PCR test can be accessed only by people who have returned a positive rapid test, or anyone with symptoms.The move is expected to ­alleviate pressure on the state’s besieged testing system, with 60 per cent of current PCR tests being sought by asymptomatic people.It remains unclear exactly how the state government plans to deliver the 34 million rapid tests it ordered this week, but Mr Foley said they would be distributed on a needs basis.Victorian Council of Social Service chief executive Emma King said it was crucial to make the tests free and accessible to all.“Your postcode and income must not be a barrier to protecting your health or the health of your loved ones,” she said.Meanwhile, school holidays are unlikely to be extended in a bid to vaccinate more children before the learning year starts on January 31, despite predictions just a third of eligible kids will be jabbed in time.The Australian Medical Association’s Roderick McCrae said he proposed a delay to combat the “shambolic” pandemic response.CUT TO COVID REBATEThe federal government will cut the amount of money it pays to pathology clinics for Covid tests from Saturday, following claims private providers are raking in large profits.The move has drawn the ire of some state authorities frustrated the funding arrangement has not continued at the same level as in 2021.From January 1, the Medicare benefits rebate for Covid tests from private pathologists will decrease from $85 to $72.25.For public clinics, the figure will fall from $42.50 to $36.15.A federal Department of Health spokeswoman said the arrangement would still mean the state and commonwealth were sharing testing costs at public labs in a 50/50 split.“The fees were set following consultation with the sector and reflect the start of the transition to more sustainable, longer-term arrangements for Covid-19 testing,” she said.“Under the partnership, all governments have committed to providing Covid-19 pathology testing to people in Australia free of charge.”As at December 22, the commonwealth had funded more than 24.8 million Covid tests through the scheme at a cost of just over $2bn.The initial funding arrangement attracted criticism amid accusations private pathologists were making significant profits from the $85 rebate.In some cases, PCR tests ­before the pandemic attracted a rebate of just over $20.After negotiations across the health sector, the federal government decided to keep funding tests at a lower rate while extending support for Covid detection until June 2022.The industry has largely ­accepted the new deal and it is not expected that Australians will have to start paying for tests out of their own pockets to cover the reduced federal funding.But health officials in multiple states are understood to have been disappointed with the decision to also reduce the funding to public providers, with work under way to assess the impacts for local budgets.“The department is aware of the recently announced changes to Medicare in relation to Covid-19 pathology items,” a Victorian Department of Health spokesman said. “We’re working closely with the federal government and pathology providers to understand any implications this may have on testing and funding and to ensure the testing system is maintained.”

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