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Home virus testing here within weeks but data on hospital readiness kept secret

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Self-testing kits for COVID-19 will be made available in Australia from November 1 after a decision by health regulator the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

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The TGA said the rapid antigen testing would be made available in a matter of weeks, subject to final tests and approvals.

There have been more than 70 expressions of interest for home testing kits to be approved in Australia, with 33 of those being approved for supervised use.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the new testing was a critical step forward.

“This is an important additional protection for Australians,” he said.

“One of the important things is that we can supplement what is known as PCR testing – the testing that we all know if we go to a Commonwealth or a state clinic – with the home testing.”

In a statement, the administration said the introduction of self-testing was dependent on achieving higher levels of vaccinations across the country.

A spokesman said the states and territories would also need to have established systems in place for people to report positive self-test results, should they have COVID-19.

Those who tested positive from a self-test would then be directed to undergo a second test at a health clinic, the TGA said.

Recent vaccine statistics have shown more than 76 per cent of Australians aged over 16 have received their first dose, while 52.6 per cent have received both doses.

Meanwhile, a Senate committee has been refused access to modelling presented to national cabinet about how prepared Australia’s hospitals ahead of the nation opening up.

The federal government has refused to hand over documents circulated at a national cabinet meeting of federal, state and territory leaders to the committee.

Labor frontbencher and committee chair Katy Gallagher last week requested the modelling, which looks at how the health system will cope when restrictions are lifted.

Department of Health secretary Brendan Murphy said the government maintained all national cabinet documents should be confidential.

“This includes information received by the national cabinet. This is consistent with longstanding practice on cabinet confidentiality,” he wrote to Senator Gallagher.

Murphy said he would refer the documents to the health minister for a public interest immunity claim.

“I would be reasonably confident the national cabinet may wish to release the modelling in coming weeks once it’s been finalised,” he told the committee hearing.

An Administrative Appeals Tribunal judge ruled the leaders’ group convened at the start of the pandemic should not be exempt from freedom of information laws.

In response, the government is trying to pass a bill to ensure national cabinet deliberations remain secret.

Australia is facing rising virus cases and hospitalisations when the nation reopens at over-16 double-dose vaccine coverage thresholds of 70 and 80 per cent.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said hospitalisation rates in NSW showed the power of immunisation against coronavirus.

“This is very much an epidemic of the unvaccinated,” he told the hearing.

Among people aged 70 to 79, just three per cent of those needing intensive care were vaccinated.

No one aged 16 to 69 admitted to ICU was fully vaccinated.

Kelly said while cases were rising in Victoria, NSW was on a downward trajectory and the ACT remained flat.

He said this year’s Delta outbreaks were different to Victoria’s second wave last year because there were more cases in children and fewer deaths.

“The main reason for both of those is in fact the vaccine rollout,” Prof Kelly said.

Victoria recorded 867 new cases and four deaths on Tuesday, the highest daily figure since the start of the pandemic.

NSW reported 863 cases and seven deaths on Tuesday.

-AAP

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