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Australia news LIVE: Hopes rapid test shortage will soon ease as COVID-19 cases in NSW, Victoria and Qld continue to soar

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  • Two dozen testing clinics close within minutes in Victoria
  • This morning’s headlines at a glance
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Two dozen testing clinics close within minutes in Victoria

Wait times at PCR testing facilities in Victoria have continued to blow out, despite recent changes to who is required to be tested in the government-led system.

By about 7.30am today, 24 testing sites across the state were at full capacity and forced to temporarily close, minutes after they opened.

The closed testing sites included the Aughtie Walk drive-through at Albert Park, Hume City Council, La Trobe University at Bundoora, Deakin University at Burwood, Central Bayside Community Health Services at Cheltenham, Monash University at Clayton, Coolaroo testing hub, and the Cranbourne testing hub.

You can find your nearest Victorian PCR testing site here.

Emergency departments under pressure from COVID surge

Rising numbers of Victorians infected with COVID-19 are arriving in Melbourne’s understaffed emergency departments at the same time as the annual surge of summer trauma patients, and the situation is forecast to worsen in the coming days.

Two epidemiologists have said they believe Victoria and NSW could be heading into another lockdown without stronger measures to limit rapidly rising case numbers, and Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley says the peak of infections in the Omicron wave could be worse than initial forecasts.

However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison insists that Australia has entered a new phase of the pandemic and further lockdowns aren’t necessary.

The number of people with COVID-19 in NSW hospitals is at 1204, including 95 in intensive care. The hospitalisation figure is close to the 1266 in hospital during the peak of the Delta wave in September. At that time 244 required intensive care.

Australia set a new daily record for COVID-19 cases yesterday, with 37,100 infections confirmed across the states and territories.

with Rachel Clun and Mary Ward

Pharmacists and retailers hope rapid antigen test shortages may ease in weeks

Pharmacists and retailers expect the availability of COVID-19 rapid antigen tests to increase in coming weeks, after changed testing rules and disruption of supply over Christmas meant shelves were stripped of the sought-after product.

A prominent health expert said shortages of rapid antigen tests had been due to “extraordinarily bad management” by federal and state governments, and were the direct result of changes to testing requirements that should have been foreseen.

Pharmacies have placed signs on their windows alerting customers to a lack of rapid tests. Credit:Chris Hopkins

Yesterday, most pharmacies struggled to keep up with the surging demand from the public for rapid tests, with many plastering signs outside their businesses to indicate they had none available.

The shortages follow a surge in Omicron cases and changes to testing rules agreed to by national cabinet last Thursday, which mean anyone who is a close contact of a person with COVID-19 must use multiple rapid antigen tests even if they don’t have symptoms.

Rapid tests have also been in high demand by people travelling interstate.

Read the full story here.

This morning’s headlines at a glance

Good morning and thanks for your company.

It’s Tuesday, January 4. I’m Broede Carmody and I’ll be anchoring our live coverage for the day.

Here’s everything you need to know before we get started.

  • Sydney’s COVID-19 burden has intensified after a major pathology company shut testing sites across the city. As Rachel Clun, Mary Ward and Amelia McGuire report, it comes after Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday ruled out providing free rapid antigen tests to all individuals (and not just those deemed close contacts). NSW yesterday reported 20,794 cases of COVID-19 and four deaths.
  • In Victoria, a rising number of COVID-19 hospitalisations is coinciding with the annual surge in summer trauma patients and health workers taking some much-needed annual leave. As Aisha Dow, Melissa Cunningham and Paul Sakkal write, the situation is forecast to worsen in the coming days. Victoria recorded 8577 cases of COVID-19 yesterday and three deaths.
  • Nationally, well over a million Australians become eligible for their third coronavirus jab today. However, almost 40 per cent who already qualify for their booster shot are yet to receive it. There will be a national cabinet meeting tomorrow and Victoria and Queensland are expected to push for access to more subsidised rapid antigen tests.
  • Speaking of rapid tests, pharmacists and retailers are hopeful they will receive more supply in the coming weeks. Australians have been scrambling for the tests after testing requirements were changed last week (with a focus on at-home rapid testing over government-run PCR tests in some settings to try to ease the burden on the health system). Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese yesterday said the Prime Minister should have done more to secure a greater supply of rapid tests.
  • Queensland’s COVID-19 cases continue to rise. There were 4249 cases yesterday and authorities said a Gold Coast man in his 30s died due to “probable COVID-19”.
  • Elsewhere, and South Australia reported 2552 cases of COVID-19 yesterday. The ACT recorded 514 cases and Tasmania 466 cases. The Northern Territory reported 58 cases on Monday and there were an additional two cases reported in Western Australia (believed to be linked to a Delta outbreak). Masks must be worn in all public indoor settings in Perth until Friday.

Regular readers of this blog will notice we’ve started a little later than usual this morning. That’s because the majority of our readers appear to be enjoying a well-earned sleep in.

The blog will kick-off just after 8.30am AEDT for the rest of this week, but will return to the usual hours (starting around 6.30am and wrapping around 6pm) from next week.

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