Eighteen months into this pandemic and we’re all pretty familiar with a COVID-19 test. Typically you’ll visit a testing location, get a swab stuck up your nose and proceed to isolate at home until you get a text with your results.
That process we all know and don’t really love could be about to change with the introduction of rapid at-home COVID tests in Australia.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) is in the process of facilitating the approval of rapid COVID-19 antigen tests for users. If everything goes according to plan, Aussies could test themselves for COVID-19 at home as soon as November 1.
The TGA’s documentation on the subject says that a new regulation implemented on October 1 will allow companies to formally apply for approval to supply their self-tests for use at home in Australia from November 1.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said there had already been multiple submissions of home tests for approval.
“At this stage, they’ve had over 70 expressions of interest and 33 tests have already been approved for supervised use. So, they will now be considered and made available, if found to be safe and effective.”
Home testing is a huge step for the government’s national plan towards living with COVID-19. Should these tests be approved as safe for use, we won’t necessarily need to run off to a public testing site to find out if we’re infected.
How does a rapid antigen test work?
A rapid antigen test is similar to the traditional COVID-19 test, except it can be turned around in half an hour instead of days.
As described by the ABC, a rapid antigen test requires you to swab your nostrils and then add it to a chemical solution. The nasal swab is then placed on a reactive piece of paper or device which returns a result.
The tests aren’t as accurate as standard PCR tests, but they are beneficial for testing those without symptoms. It’s likely you’ll still be required to get tested at a clinic if you develop symptoms or are identified as a close contact.
Currently, rapid COVID-19 tests can only be used in Australia in the presence of a qualified health practitioner.
For some organisations, like aged care homes and big banks like the Commonwealth and Westpac, supplying a qualified nurse to supervise rapid testing has been worth it.
But the rules will need to be relaxed if the government wants individuals and smaller businesses to take up home testing.
According to the ABC, the TGA has said home tests will have easy-to-use instructions, fact sheets and supporting telephone hotlines or instructional videos to make them easier to use for individuals.
Where will you be able to buy one?
TGA head John Skerritt said the finer details of how these home tests will work and be sold are still being worked out.
“As of 1 November, we will have home tests available for self-purchase for people to get on the internet, at pharmacies, convenience stores, whatever channels they want to get.
“We’re working very actively with a range of companies because the current tests are designed for professional use and they are not home tests.”
Right now, we don’t know what these home tests will cost us.
Rapid antigen tests have been used heavily in overseas markets, which gives us an idea of how much they might cost.
It’s likely Aussies will have to pay for their own tests, but decisions on when they will be required and how they will be implemented will be up to individual states and territories.