The New South Wales government is considering mailing free rapid Covid-19 tests to people in an attempt to ease delays at the state’s overloaded testing centres but has resisted growing calls to reintroduce indoor mask mandates amid record case numbers.
As the daily Covid-19 cases surged to a record 5,715 on Thursday, the government also confirmed that it would reintroduce mandatory QR check-ins at retail and hospitality venues in an attempt to assist contact tracers.
The arrival of the highly contagious Omicron variant coupled with requirements in a number of states for visitors to provide a negative PCR test before crossing borders has placed significant strain on the capacity of testing centres across the country.
The government is exploring the possibility of adopting a scheme similar to the UK, where rapid antigen tests have been mailed out to homes, as well as potentially being available through general practitioners and pharmacists.
The state’s premier, Dominic Perrottet, has tasked health minister, Brad Hazzard, with exploring options for a massive order of the tests which would then be distributed throughout the state.
“Our approach to Covid has never been ‘set and forget’ – we will always look at options and different ways doing things as we learn to navigate our way through the pandemic,” Perrottet said.
“This will also help people monitor their own symptoms and go about their daily activities in a responsible manner helping protect themselves, their families and the community.”
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But the state government has continued to resist introducing mask mandates. This came after the prime minister, Scott Morrison, said after Wednesday’s national cabinet meeting that it was not necessary to enforce mandates despite advice from the national chief medical officer, Paul Kelly.
The state government confirmed on Thursday that QR codes would again become mandatory in most NSW venues after those rules were relaxed earlier this month.
Brad Hazzard has also floated the idea of forcing unvaccinated people to pay for hospital stays caused by Covid-19 infections, telling Guardian Australia it was “an option under consideration by the NSW government”.
After the national cabinet meeting Morrison called on the states to reopen mass vaccination hubs to speed up the rollout of booster shots. But Hazzard hit back at that suggestion, telling the Sydney Morning Herald that healthcare staff shortages meant boosters should primarily be provided by GPs and pharmacists.
On Thursday Guardian Australia reported that pharmacists in the Covid-hit city of Newcastle have experienced significant shortages of booster vaccines and are having to turn away many of those looking for jabs.
As Covid cases continue to surge in NSW, the state’s health department reported there were now 347 people hospitalised with the virus, up from 303 the day before, with 45 people in ICU, an increase of five.