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‘Urgent’: Government makes surprise move on rapid tests

An urgent tender for millions of rapid antigen tests has been placed by the federal government.

In total, five tenders for rapid tests worth just under $62 million were quietly published on Tuesday by the Department of Health.

On the AusTender website, the department listed “extreme urgency or unforeseen events” as the reason for the limited tender.

The tender comes just a day after Prime Minister Scott Morrison faced backlash from pharmacists after they were told they needed to secure their own supply of additional tests to support the government’s plan for free RATs for concession card holders.

Camera IconRapid antigen tests have been in short supply as the number of cases across the nation rises. NCA NewsWire / Flavio Brancaleone Credit: News Corp Australia

The Department of Health said the latest tender was not for additional RATs.

Instead, the department said the tender was part of the broader procurement of more than 70 million rapid tests.

“As per the COVID procurement rules these contracts were issued as ‘urgent and unavoidable’ following a limited tender process,” a spokesman told NCA NewsWire.

“Each proposal was independently assessed against consistent criteria before the departmental delegate made the decision to procure the tests.”

It is not yet clear where the tests will be deployed or when they will arrive for use.

Just last week, Mr Morrison said securing rapid antigen tests was a state responsibility.

“It’s the same rules that apply for PCR tests. States secure the supplies for PCR tests, and for RAT tests that they’d be supplying for their own purposes in whatever state has always been a matter for the states,” he told reporters in Canberra.

Camera IconScott Morrison said last week securing rapid tests was a state responsibility. NCA NewsWire / Gary Ramage Credit: News Corp Australia

The opposition said the delayed order proved the government was unprepared for the demand.

“Despite knowing that rapid tests were a ‘critical part’ of opening up, as far back as September, the Morrison Government did nothing to secure supplies until there was a national Covid testing crisis and we had empty shelves in pharmacies,” Labor’s Katy Gallagher told NCA Newswire.

“The result of this PM’s failure to properly plan is that we now have hundreds of thousands of positive Covid cases, hundreds of thousands more people isolating and away from work, hospitals under pressure, businesses closing, supermarket shelves empty and supply chains broken.

“How Scott Morrison could have left it until this week to order the RAT tests needed beggars belief.”

Camera IconThe major order comes as the government faces backlash over its handling of the RAT roll out. Chris Kidd. Credit: News Corp Australia

Australia’s adoption of rapid antigen tests has been slower than other countries, such as the US and UK, a strategy which TGA boss John Skerritt previously admitted was deliberate.

“We’re saying to companies, submit your data, show us, but we can’t formally make an approval decision until we get a signal from the government,” Professor Skerritt told NCA Newswire in September.

“It’s a decision for the government. Firstly, when they feel an appropriate time is to commit such tests. But then secondly, we’ve got to have the tests that are actually ready to go and designed so they can be used by non-professional people.”

That signal eventually came from the Health Minister the day after NCA Newswire revealed the reason for the delay.

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