Certainly no one could accuse the Morrison government and its battalion of health advisers of being fast learners.
Despite the obvious warnings from the Auckland, Adelaide and Melbourne quarantine outbreaks, the federal government seems to have spent the last few weeks completing a COVID-19 victory lap — a celebration that, in light of the situation in Sydney’s northern beaches — appears to have been somewhat premature.
As we’ve said since mid-March, other than a vaccine (which the Australian government appears to be ambling towards three months slower than other developed countries), the fastest route to normality is the widespread deployment of rapid testing.
As such, it should have been a moment of immense pride when Brisbane-based diagnostics company Ellume announced on Wednesday that it had received emergency authorisation from US authorities for a rapid, in-home COVID-19 test.
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US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Stephen Hahn lauded the Australian breakthrough, noting that “by authorising a test for over-the-counter use, the FDA allows it to be sold in places like drug stores, where a patient can buy it, swab their nose, run the test and find out their results in as little as 20 minutes”.
Surely such a powerful tool in fighting COVID-19 and ensuring the economy remains on track would no doubt be embraced by our free-market, business-first Liberal government, right?
Not so much.
Instead of adopting the new technology, which has a 96% success rate, acting chief health officer Paul Kelly earlier this week dismissed suggestions of approving the test, noting that Australia would continue to only use the “gold standard” PCR test.
Gold standard in accuracy perhaps, but certainly not in usefulness, given many people simply refuse to get a test because they take too long, or don’t isolate while waiting for results.
It’s quite likely the Sydney outbreak, which is threatening to shut down half of Australia just before Christmas, could have been avoided if rapid tests were readily available.
Scotty from Marketing was even less bothered than his chief health officer, reverting to type and opting for xenophobia rather than a technological solution.
When questioned on Ellume’s technology, Morrison noted that “the reason we have done so well is we have been so careful around our borders, and so we will work through those issues”.