A veteran doctor claims he urged Australia’s top politicians and health bureaucrats months ago to stockpile rapid antigen tests before shortages hit the country.
Ian Norton, former head of the World Health Organisation’s emergency medical team, claimed he pushed Australian leaders to heavily invest in rapid antigen tests six months ago.
But he said it fell on deaf ears and now supply chains have critical labour shortages with workers struggling to find tests needed to be cleared to work.
Specialist emergency physician Ian Norton (pictured) claims he urged Australian leaders to stockpile rapid antigen tests before mass shortages swept the country
‘I’m disappointed we weren’t better prepared because we were advocating for preparation for this for some time, to get ready, to have a stockpile ready to use at the state and commonwealth level,’ Dr Norton told The Australian.
‘It’s tough to watch now because we were advocating for so long and I remember vividly having lots of conversations with chief health officers and their various staff in different jurisdictions.
‘[I was saying] this is really relevant, particularly to a couple of industries we’ve been supporting, such as the meat sector and distribution centres, these are places we should have seen as critical.’
Australians were urged to switch to rapid tests to alleviate mounting pressure on PCR clinics as Covid-19 cases surged.
The lack of rapid antigen tests has led to critical labor shortages in distribution centres and supply chain as workers were plunged into Covid-19 isolation (pictured, a pharmacy displays a sign informing customers they have sold out of RAT kits)
However, it is near-impossible to get their hands on rapid antigen tests with stock numbers dwindling and pharmacy shelves stripped bare.
The shortage left manufacturing, transport, postal, warehousing, and even waste collection undermanned as thousands of workers were plunged into Covid isolation.
‘We were watching other countries stocking up on RAT tests and wondering why on earth we were not getting ready in case that happens here. Was it that we truly felt it would never happen to us here?’ he added.
Dr Norton, the founder of Health Crisis management outfit of Respond Global, is now working to support affected workers in supply chains.
Furloughed food logistics and manufacturing staff are allowed to leave self-isolation to attend work if they have no symptoms, wear a mask, and undergo daily rapid antigen testing.
However tens of thousands of workers are still unable to get their hands on a rapid test kits due to limited availability.
Australians were urged to switch to RAT tests to alleviate mounting pressure on the PCR test systems, predominantly in NSW and Victoria as Covid-19 cases surged (pictured, residents endured long wait lines for PCR tests at Bondi Beach on New Year’s Day)
However, NSW politicians will receive close to 2,000 free rapid antigen tests.
They will be sent out to MPs’ electorate offices across the state, and staff who work out of Parliament House will have access to at least one per week.
In an email to the parliamentary workforce on Monday, the Department of Parliamentary Services confirmed a limited supply was put aside as a ‘safety measure’.
‘For electorate offices, a limited supply of tests (20 RAT kits) will be sent out to each of the 98 electorate offices for use by members and staff, starting from tomorrow morning,’ MPs were told.
Supermarket giants such as Woolworths and Coles have also been allocated stockpiles for workers – but they are said to be dwindling.
The first of 50 million rapid antigen tests will begin arriving in NSW this week, with the state government trying to source another 50 million for distribution in late February and March.
The Victorian Government also secured an order for 34 million rapid antigen tests to be delivered by the end of January.