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Business groups urge the government to fund rapid COVID-19 tests for SMEs

Small business groups have once again urged the federal government to fund free or subsidised rapid antigen tests (RAT) to ease the financial burden on SME owners. 

“In October, we called on governments to offer funding for small businesses to purchase rapid antigen tests for their employees,” COSBOA wrote on LinkedIn. 

“RATs should be taken every three days to be accurate and effective, but it’s just too costly for staff members to take them multiple times a week – if they can find them, that is. We urge the government to consider funding them.”

Many businesses have mandated rapid antigen testing. Employees take COVID-19 self-tests at home and prove a negative test result before entering the workplace. 

As borders open and concerns about the spread of the new Omicron COVID-19 strain threatens holiday plans, experts say rapid antigen tests (RATs) might be used to help protect those looking to spend time with friends and family.

An alliance led by the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA), including the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and the Transport Workers Union, said that subsidised tests would ultimately protect businesses against snap shutdowns.

According to COSBOA CEO Alexi Boyd, small businesses will not use it if rapid antigen testing is cost-prohibitive.

“Providing funding to access these tests will give small business people confidence that they can stay open while still providing a safe environment for their workers and their community,” she said.

“A funding mechanism for rapid antigen testing could boost business confidence for struggling industries, protect supply chains already under severe pressure and help maintain high testing numbers as more Australians become fully vaccinated.”

The call comes as new figures reveal that while online shopping remains more popular than it was before the pandemic, spending at brick-and-mortar stores has made a post-lockdown recovery. 

With the Federal Government and TGA sanctioning the sale of rapid antigen self-tests (RATs) for Australians, they are becoming more widely available through workplaces, online, or in supermarkets and pharmacies across the country.

What are rapid antigen tests?

Rapid antigen tests can detect whether individuals have COVID-19, even if they are asymptomatic. The tests are not as reliable as the PCR tests that have been used in Australia to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, but they provide a faster result. 

It also means capturing consent, storing information appropriately, having an auditable process and the ability to report results to individuals, their employers and health departments, all in under 20 minutes. 

Other parts of the world, including the UK, Singapore, and several countries in Europe, are funding these tests.

ACTU Secretary Sally McManus said that Australia is again lagging behind the rest of the world when managing COVID-19. 

“We cannot afford to make the same mistake with rapid testing as we have with vaccines,” Ms McManus said.

“The Morrison Government must show leadership in making these effective measures available in all workplaces, but especially small businesses, as we transition to living with COVID-19.”

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Yajush Gupta

Yajush Gupta

Yajush is a journalist at Dynamic Business. He previously worked with Reuters as a business correspondent and holds a postgrad degree in print journalism.

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