Victorian health officials thumb noses at US counterparts who are phasing out ‘inaccurate’ PCR tests

Victoria’s health department will put millions of residents into their sixth hard lockdown rather than implement rapid antigen testing at Covid-19 hotspots. 

In an extraordinary slapdown of United States health officials, Victorian health minister Martin Foley said  his health experts know better. 

Last month, the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention warned pathology labs it would end its support for the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests from December 31 due to concerns over their accuracy. 

Victorian health minister Martin Foley dismisses US advice on PCR tests

Victorian health minister Martin Foley dismisses US advice on PCR tests  

Thousands of people connected to Al-Taqwa College in Melbourne's west have been told to isolate. But a state-wide lockdown looms large

Thousands of people connected to Al-Taqwa College in Melbourne’s west have been told to isolate. But a state-wide lockdown looms large

People are seen dining at the Wolf Cafe & Eatery in Altona North on Thursday after it was announced as a Tier 1 site by the government.

People are seen dining at the Wolf Cafe & Eatery in Altona North on Thursday after it was announced as a Tier 1 site by the government.

RAPID TESTS ENDED SLOVAKIAN LOCKDOWN

In October and November, Slovakia tested a large percentage of its population in several rounds of mass rapid antigen testing. 

Determined not to enter another lockdown, two rounds of rapid mass testing saw the prevalence of Covid drop by more than half. 

While the approach may not work everywhere, the findings supported population-wide rapid testing, when combined with other measures, as an important tool for combatting the pandemic. 

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PCR tests, which require pathology testing inside a laboratory, remain the only tests available to the general public.

Thousands of Melburnians have been told to isolate after a school teacher from Al-Taqwa College in Truganina – west of Melbourne – tested positive to the Delta strain of the virus. 

Seven new locally acquired Covid infections were announced on Thursday morning, including a man who works at Caroline Springs and plays football for Newport Football Club – also in Melbourne’s west. 

Diagnostic experts have long argued the use of rapid antigen tests, which cost about $15 and provide results within minutes, could isolate infected people instantly and avoid state-wide lockdowns. 

They have also been proven to be adopted by people who would normally resist a more intrusive PCR test. 

Victoria’s health department has refused to allow use of the rapid antigen tests among the general public. 

‘Rapid antigen testing is an important part of a much wider  field of how testing is done,’ Mr Foley said on Thursday. 

‘Rapid antigen testing is not as accurate as PCR. Rapid antigen testing was used widely on other parts of the world that have rampant Covid and in those circumstances forms a different part of the armoury for how testing is done.’

A healthcare worker performs rapid antigen mass testing  at a station in Thailand

A healthcare worker performs rapid antigen mass testing  at a station in Thailand

People wearing protective gear are seen at Al-Taqwa College in Truganina after a Covid-19 scare

People wearing protective gear are seen at Al-Taqwa College in Truganina after a Covid-19 scare

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is expected to announce Victoria's sixth lockdown

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is expected to announce Victoria’s sixth lockdown 

His comments come on the one-year anniversary of Victoria’s largest day of Covid infections. 

On August 5 last year, Victoria would peak with 725 recorded cases and the state was plunged into its second deadly wave which cost 820 lives.

Diagnostic experts have long argued the use of rapid antigen tests on aged care workers and visitors could have prevented the loss of life.  

A defiant Mr Foley, who on Thursday would not rule out locking Victorians down again as early as tonight, claimed rapid antigen tests in ‘Victoria and Australia’ threw up ‘an unacceptably high number of false returns’. 

‘The Victorian Government, and indeed the Australian Government … think that the most accurate and appropriate form of testing – the diamond standard form of testing – is PCR testing,’ he said. 

Melbourne is facing yet another lockdown

Melbourne is facing yet another lockdown 

People are tested for coronavirus in the carpark of a medical centre in Truganina

People are tested for coronavirus in the carpark of a medical centre in Truganina

A paramedic puts a Covid-19 sample into a rapid antigen test kit in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir

A paramedic puts a Covid-19 sample into a rapid antigen test kit in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir

ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF PAIN 

It was August 5 last year when Victoria’s new case numbers would peak with 725 recorded cases.

The panic button was pushed and metropolitan Melbourne was moved to stage-four lockdown, which saw travel restricted to within a 5km radius and a curfew from 8pm to 5am.

Melburnians scrambled to get their hair cut and shopping done in a last-minute rush. 

Hairdressers, electrical and furniture shops, food courts and clothes shops all served their last customers for what they believed would last until at least mid September. 

The following day, Victoria recorded 471 new cases and eight more deaths. 

A total of 7449 active cases remained with 575 Victorians in hospital with the virus – 42 of those in intensive care. 

On August 12 – 34 days after the July 9 lockdown – 7877 cases were currently active in Victoria.  

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‘I would have thought football clubs, communities would want to know the test result they’re getting is accurate.’

Mr Foley further dismissed health advice from United States health officials, which have watched more than 600,000 of its citizens die from the virus. 

Last month, the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention encouraged laboratories to ‘consider adoption of a multiplexed method that can facilitate detection and differentiation of SARS-CoV-2 and influenza viruses.’

‘I’m quite sure that the United States and other areas that are well down the path of mass-vaccination processes that have had amongst the highest number of positive cases and deaths, make those decisions based on (their) circumstances,’ Mr Foley said. 

‘The Australian public health response is a very different set of circumstances in regards to both our number of positive cases – fortunately, however tragically, as we continue to see sadly today with five deaths in New South Wales, the circumstances in Australia are different and with those different circumstances come different managements of risk.’

The health minister said rapid antigen testing amounted to ‘serial testing’ of the same population numerous times. 

Experts claim by running rapid antigen and rapid antibody tests in parallel with PCR tests, patients understand after 15 minutes with a high degree of accuracy whether they currently have or have had the virus. 

Such tests, which can be bought over the counter in the United States and United Kingdom, can quickly identify potential carriers at a fraction of the price of PCR tests. 

The Elm Road Family Clinic in Altona North where a Melbourne teacher tested positive to Covid-19

The Elm Road Family Clinic in Altona North where a Melbourne teacher tested positive to Covid-19 

A healthcare worker collects a swab sample for the Covid-19 PCR test, from a child passenger arriving on an international flight at a facility inside the Chennai International Airport in Chennai, India this week

A healthcare worker collects a swab sample for the Covid-19 PCR test, from a child passenger arriving on an international flight at a facility inside the Chennai International Airport in Chennai, India this week

Just last week, Daily Mail Australia revealed the cost of Covid-19 testing had already stung the Australian taxpayer for more than $1billion. 

For each PCR test conducted,  working Australians contribute between $42.50 and a whopping $85 each. 

Mr Foley said while rapid antigen testing may one day play a role in Australia’s defence of lockdowns, it would not be anytime soon. 

‘We want to make sure if we go to a school, a football club, any organisation that those tests are as accurate as possible. PCR testing is the most accurate,’ he said. 

‘That is not to say that at one time as the national strategy that was endorsed in principal by national cabinet plays out, that rapid antigen testing may well prove a part, but at the moment the risks are such that – and I think people expect their tests to be as accurate as possible.’ 

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