Australians are struggling to get hold of rapid antigen tests amid fears that supply shortages will last for weeks, denting the nation’s ability to live with Covid-19.

Countries including the UK and Singapore have been providing free rapid tests – which can be done in 15 minutes at home – for several months. 

But in Australia they have to be bought for at least $10 per swab and there are severe shortages amid a surge in global demand due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

PCR testing queues in Melbourne and Sydney (pictured) stretched to five hours over the past week

PCR testing queues in Melbourne and Sydney (pictured) stretched to five hours over the past week

PCR testing queues in Melbourne and Sydney (pictured) stretched to five hours over the past week

Australians around the country are complaining about being unable to get hold of rapid tests which are crucial to releasing close contacts from isolation and allowing the economy to function during a major outbreak. 

Twitter user Steve in Melbourne wrote: ‘Been to eight different pharmacies looking for rapid antigen tests with no luck.’

Effie Karageorgos in Sydney added: ‘Have been searching this morning for rapid antigen tests in Sydney for my parents (just in case) and cannot find any. 

‘One lovely pharmacist I called told me to check Facebook community groups to see who has them. Seems to me this is not the way to run a pandemic.’ 

The need for rapid tests has become urgent as PCR testing queues in Melbourne and Sydney stretched to five hours over the past week due to Queensland’s entry test requirements, clinic closures and more people wanting a negative result before visiting family over the Christmas holidays. 

‘It is easier to get a ticket to the AFL grand final than get a test in some parts of Australia,’ Labor leader Anthony Albanese said on Wednesday. 

‘Scott Morrison and his Government are once again showing a lack of leadership, consistently passing the buck to state and territory governments.’

On Wednesday Queensland announced from January 1 it will require negative antigen tests for entry – instead of PCR tests – a move that will increase demand even further. 

Residents queue in their cars for Covid-19 PCR tests at a clinic at North Ryde in Sydney

Residents queue in their cars for Covid-19 PCR tests at a clinic at North Ryde in Sydney

Residents queue in their cars for Covid-19 PCR tests at a clinic at North Ryde in Sydney

Victoria has ordered 34million rapid tests and NSW has ordered 20million with another 30million due to be requested – but they won’t arrive until the end of January.

Penrith City Councillor and former nurse Robin Cook said this was too late and the State Government should have acted sooner.

‘So NSW won’t receive supply of the RAT kits until the end of January meanwhile PCR Testing Labs continue to struggle. My plea to the government is be PROACTIVE rather then reactive in this pandemic,’ she wrote on Twitter. 

Mr Morrison described rapid tests as a ‘precious commodity’ but has refused to help states with supplies, insisting it’s not his responsibility under the constitution.

‘State governments as always are responsible for securing the RAT tests, providing them to people, and we’ll share the cost 50/50 with the state government,’ he said on Wednesday.

Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley blasted the PM for the lack of national leadership.

‘We would much prefer to have a national approach to what is a national, indeed an international, supply issue. But failing that, as per usual, the states have had to step up over the course of this pandemic and fill the gap left,’ he said.

Victoria and NSW both plan to hand out rapid tests for free, with distribution details still being worked through.

Mr Morrison described rapid tests as a 'precious commodity' but has refused to help states with supplies, insisting it's not his responsibility under the constitution

Mr Morrison described rapid tests as a 'precious commodity' but has refused to help states with supplies, insisting it's not his responsibility under the constitution

Mr Morrison described rapid tests as a ‘precious commodity’ but has refused to help states with supplies, insisting it’s not his responsibility under the constitution

The boss of rapid test maker Atomo Diagnostics has also criticised the Prime Minister for the lack of planning so far.

‘There’s no national rapid test strategy and we’ve been waiting two years for this to happen. I don’t understand why as a nation we are not better prepared,’ he told News Corp.

Atomo Diagnostics is one of several local test makers awaiting approval from the drug regulator, the TGA, to be able to sell its products in Australia.

Queensland-based rapid testing company Anteotech is in the same boat, unable to sell its tests even though the state’s Chief Health Officer John Gerrard admitted ‘there is no doubt rapid antigen tests are hard to obtain in Queensland’.

Mr Morrison said applications would be fast-tracked but only if they met the required standard.

‘We’ll also be working closely with the TGA to ensure that pending applications for RAT test approval continue to receive a priority (but) the TGA has to be sure about the testing kits that it approves,’ he said.

Last week the PM admitted that ‘some can’t’ afford the rapid antigen tests as an alternative to supervised PCR swabs but said his priority was the booster rollout.

The comment sparked fury from opponents who have been demanding free rapid tests.

ACTU Acting Secretary Liam O’Brien said: ‘Unions and business urged the Prime Minister to make Rapid Antigen Tests free back in October, but he didn’t do anything about it – and now we have testing sites jammed and a looming crisis on our hands.

‘A single test can cost up to $20, if you’re lucky enough to find a chemist that still has them. That’s $100 for Mum, Dad and the three kids. That might be small change to the Prime Minister, but it’s out of reach for many families.

‘Scott Morrison’s callous indifference to Australians who cannot afford the sky-high costs of Rapid Antigen Tests proves yet again that working people cannot trust this Prime Minister to be there when they need him.’ 

Even former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd weighed in on Tuesday, comparing the rapid test debacle to the slow vaccine rollout which was delayed by a lack of Pfizer following changing health advice on the AstraZeneca jab.

He wrote on Twitter: ‘Morrison and Hunt didn’t order enough vaccines, delaying our rollout, extending lockdowns and border rules; didn’t order enough boosters, undermining the Omicron response; and now haven’t ordered enough rapid antigen tests to avoid a NSW testing collapse.’

Residents in their cars at a drive-through COVID-19 testing site at in Melbourne on Wednesday

Residents in their cars at a drive-through COVID-19 testing site at in Melbourne on Wednesday

Residents in their cars at a drive-through COVID-19 testing site at in Melbourne on Wednesday

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