No budget plan for RAT deployment, parliament said

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There was no budget allocation for the provision of rapid antigen tests when the Marshall government delivered its mid-year budget review last month – because ‘they weren’t part of the conversation at the time’ , Parliament said.

The government legalized the sale of COVID home test kits just before Christmas, with Prime Minister Steven Marshall saying at the time that there were “millions of test kits already here in South Australia”.

However, State Treasury Department CEO David Reynolds told the House Budget and Finance Committee today that there is no budgetary allocation for the purchase of test kits. rapid antigen when the mid-year budget update was delivered – just ten days earlier.

Asked by Labor Committee Chairman Kyam Maher today ‘what arrangements have been made in terms of finances for the government buying RATs’, Reynolds replied: ‘Certainly nothing in the mid-year budget review because they weren’t part of the conversation at the time.”

“Since then the government has entered into at least one, probably several contracts in fact with different suppliers, to purchase RATs – and will continue to do so over the next couple of months,” he said.

Reynolds estimated that “probably about $20 million” had been spent on RAT supplies since last month.

This follows weeks of short community supply of the in-demand test kits, with pharmacies and supermarkets regularly reporting stock-outs, and the government is now providing two tests for close contacts registered at collection sites, four of which will be operational from tomorrow.

Reynolds said the government estimates that each test costs ‘about $5’ but that ‘there are different types of RATs’, with individual use kits ‘slightly cheaper than that and those that can be used for any purpose. medical ones which are a little more expensive.

“So it’s an average number,” he said.

When asked why the government “didn’t authorize their use until very late in December”, he replied: “We haven’t had so many positive cases during this period”.

“The health evidence has been very clear, using RATs is not as helpful when there are low numbers of COVID cases because you tend to get more false positives,” he said. declared.

“PCR testing is much preferred as a strategy when you have a lower number of cases [but] when cases reach a higher number, it is worth doing RATs to get a better idea of ​​the number of cases in your community.

Reynolds denied telling Marshall that there were ‘millions’ of RATs stored in South Africa at the end of December, with SA Health representatives telling the committee last week that they had not provided such advice either. .

He said he was aware that supermarkets and pharmacies had tests pending in “distribution warehouses”.

“I didn’t provide a number, but I knew they had stock,” he said.

Reynolds said of the additional $393 million added to the health budget for COVID spending over the past year, all but $14 million had already been spent at the time of the mid-year budget review. .

He said while some aspects of ongoing funding, such as medi-hotel usage, are expected to decline in the coming months, additional unforeseen demands prompted by the Omicron outbreak would likely see spending increase beyond of the budgeted estimate.

Reynolds also shed light on the state’s COVID-Ready Committee, chaired by Marshall, which meets daily in place of the Transition Committee, which has not been disbanded but has not met for several weeks. .

When questioned by MPs, Reynolds said the COVID-Ready committee had met at the invitation of the Prime Minister’s Office, but had no daily agenda and meeting minutes were not available. not preserved.

Reynolds said the meetings looked at “the number of cases that day and trends and patterns and a number of other things.”

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