Rapid antigen testing is about to ramp up in Australia as Covid cases soar to new record highs, with classic PCRs testing putting immense pressure on the healthcare system.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday flagged that RAT kits will need to become a major part of the nation’s battle against the Omicron variant, with coronavirus infections now spiralling past 18,000 a day for the first time.

Testing clinics and the laboratories which process the results are completely overrun in the face of the supermutant strain as those looking to get a PCR swab are forced to wait hours in queues and a further four days to receive the result.

National cabinet will hold urgent talks on Thursday about Australia’s transition away from PCR tests to the widespread use of chemist store RAT kits, which are slightly less reliable but show results in about 15 minutes.

The at-home testing kits have been in widespread use in countries including the UK and US for about a year, but Australian health authorities have been reluctant to make them part of the national strategy up until now.

Here is everything you need to know about the RAT kits, where to buy them and how to use them.

Testing clinics and the laboratories that process the results are completely overrun (Sydney's Bondi Covid clinic pictured) in the face of the supermutant strain as those looking to get a PCR swab are forced to wait hours in queues and a further four days to receive the result

Testing clinics and the laboratories that process the results are completely overrun (Sydney's Bondi Covid clinic pictured) in the face of the supermutant strain as those looking to get a PCR swab are forced to wait hours in queues and a further four days to receive the result

Testing clinics and the laboratories that process the results are completely overrun (Sydney’s Bondi Covid clinic pictured) in the face of the supermutant strain as those looking to get a PCR swab are forced to wait hours in queues and a further four days to receive the result

WHEN SHOULD YOU GET A PCR TEST FOR COVID? 

With immense pressure on Australia’s healthcare system from record Covid cases, testing clinics are overwhelmed along with the labs that process the results.

Health authorities have urged that only the follow groups get a PCR test. 

*Anyone who has Covid-19 symptoms like a sore throat 

*Anyone who has been deemed a close contact 

*Anyone who has received a positive rapid-antigen test

*Anyone who has been in a superspreader venue which health authorities have advised there is a high-risk of transmission

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WHERE TO GET RAT KITS AND HOW MUCH DO THEY COST? 

RAT kits are sold at pharmacies, chemists, supermarkets and online across Australia and can be purchased by anyone for about $15.

Larger boxes which sell packs of two, five or 10 will be more expensive depending on the brand.

But if you rush out to buy one, you may have a great deal of trouble finding them as soaring demand has seen the kits fly off the shelves with most suppliers selling out.

The NSW government is expecting 20 million RATs by the end of January with 30 million more also on the way after that.

The federal health department has snapped up about 10 million for use in residential aged care facilities, and is in the process of ordering another 50 million.

Other states are also scrambling to get their hands on more RATs but it may take some weeks before they’re on the shelves. 

The at-home testing kits have been in widespread use in places like the UK and US for about a year, but Australian health authorities have been reluctant to make them part of the national strategy up until now. Pictured: Covid testing in Sydney

The at-home testing kits have been in widespread use in places like the UK and US for about a year, but Australian health authorities have been reluctant to make them part of the national strategy up until now. Pictured: Covid testing in Sydney

The at-home testing kits have been in widespread use in places like the UK and US for about a year, but Australian health authorities have been reluctant to make them part of the national strategy up until now. Pictured: Covid testing in Sydney

If you rush out to buy one at the moment you may have a great deal of trouble finding them as soaring demand has seen the kits fly off the shelves with most suppliers selling out (pictured, a pharmacy in Sydney)

If you rush out to buy one at the moment you may have a great deal of trouble finding them as soaring demand has seen the kits fly off the shelves with most suppliers selling out (pictured, a pharmacy in Sydney)

If you rush out to buy one at the moment you may have a great deal of trouble finding them as soaring demand has seen the kits fly off the shelves with most suppliers selling out (pictured, a pharmacy in Sydney)

ARE RAT KITS ACCURATE AND HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE? 

Not every RAT kit is created equally. Some are more accurate than others, but overall the kits can be very effective in diagnosing Covid.

While PCR tests are almost 100 per cent accurate, the complex chemical process required to determine a result is currently taking laboratory workers about four days due the massive backlog of samples.

In comparison, the results of a RAT kit can be uncovered in 10-20 minutes for most brands.

Poll

SHOULD RAPID ANTIGEN TESTS REPLACE PCRs?

  • Yes – they are cheap and easy 7 votes
  • Yes – but only in some circumstances 9 votes
  • No – they are not as accurate 6 votes

Now share your opinion

To separate the most effective brands from the duds, the Therapeutic Goods Administration reviewed a host of studies carried out on the manufacturers.

The bare minimum standard required for RAT kits to be sold in Australia is 80 per cent clinical sensitivity, which sees the product labelled ‘acceptable sensitivity’.

Kits with 90 per cent effectiveness are considered ‘high sensitivity’ and brands that have above 95 per cent marked ‘very high sensitivity’.

There are only 15 brands which have met these criteria with just five RAT kits given the ‘very high sensitivity’ label. 

To separate the most effective brands from the duds, the Therapeutic Goods Administration reviewed a host of studies carried out on the manufacturers (pictured, a Covid testing kit in Sydney)

To separate the most effective brands from the duds, the Therapeutic Goods Administration reviewed a host of studies carried out on the manufacturers (pictured, a Covid testing kit in Sydney)

To separate the most effective brands from the duds, the Therapeutic Goods Administration reviewed a host of studies carried out on the manufacturers (pictured, a Covid testing kit in Sydney)

The bare minimum standard required for RAT kits to be sold in Australia is 80 per cent clinical sensitivity, which sees the product labelled 'acceptable sensitivity' (pictured, a RAT test in use)

The bare minimum standard required for RAT kits to be sold in Australia is 80 per cent clinical sensitivity, which sees the product labelled 'acceptable sensitivity' (pictured, a RAT test in use)

The bare minimum standard required for RAT kits to be sold in Australia is 80 per cent clinical sensitivity, which sees the product labelled ‘acceptable sensitivity’ (pictured, a RAT test in use)

WHAT ARE THE 15 RAT KITS APPROVED FOR USE IN AUSTRALIA? 

VERY HIGH SENSITIVITY – 95% CLINICALLY SENSITIVE 

All Test Sars-CoV-2 Antigen Rapid Test – (Nasal Swab) – China

Lyher Novel Coronavirus Antigen Test Kit (Nasal Swab) – China

OnSite Covid-19 Ag Self Test (Nasal Swab) – USA

Panbio Covid-19 Antigen Self-Test (Nasal Swab) – Germany

V-Chek Covid-19 Antigen Test (Saliva) – China  

HIGH SENSITIVITY – 90 PER CENT CLINICALLY SENSITIVE 

All Test Covid-19 Antigen Rapid Test (Oral Fluid) – China

Hough Covid-19 Home Test (Nasal Swab) – China

My Covid Test Antigen Rapid Test – (Oral Fluid) – China

Orawell Covid-19 Ag Rapid Test (Saliva) – China

RightSign Covid-19 Antigen Rapid Test Cassette (Nasal Swab) – China

Testsealabs Covid-19 Antigen Test Cassette (Nasal Swab) – China  

ACCEPTABLE SENSITIVITY – 80 PER CENT CLINICALLY SENSITIVE 

Roche Sars-CoV-2 Antigen Self Test (Nasal Swab) – South Korea

InnoScreen Covid-19 Antigen Rapid Test (Nasal Swab) – Australia

Ecotest Covid-19 Antigen Saliva Test kit (saliva) – China

CareStart Covid-19 Antigen Home Test (Nasal Swab) – USA

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HOW AND WHEN SHOULD I USE THEM AND IS IT SAFE FOR KIDS? 

The kits are administered much like PCR tests.

A person can test themselves by swabbing the inside of their nose and then following the instructions on the box to get a reading on the device.

Some kits instead use saliva samples, which can be a better option for the elderly or young children as nasal swabs can sometimes be painful.

Health authorities say the kits are completely safe for anyone of any age to use, but those under 12 should have their test performed by a parent or guardian.

A person can test themselves by swabbing the inside of their nose and then following the instructions on the box to get a reading on the device (stock image)

A person can test themselves by swabbing the inside of their nose and then following the instructions on the box to get a reading on the device (stock image)

A person can test themselves by swabbing the inside of their nose and then following the instructions on the box to get a reading on the device (stock image)

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday flagged that RAT kits will need to become a major part of the nation's battle against the Omicron variant with coronavirus infections now spiralling past 18,000 a day. Pictured: Long Covid testing queues in Melbourne

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday flagged that RAT kits will need to become a major part of the nation's battle against the Omicron variant with coronavirus infections now spiralling past 18,000 a day. Pictured: Long Covid testing queues in Melbourne

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday flagged that RAT kits will need to become a major part of the nation’s battle against the Omicron variant with coronavirus infections now spiralling past 18,000 a day. Pictured: Long Covid testing queues in Melbourne

The need to administer an at-home test will vary from person to person with some workers in high-risk sectors perhaps having to use a RAT kit everyday as a condition of employment.

But a positive result should be confirmed with a PCR test as false positives can sometimes occur.

Likewise, false negatives can also happen in the early stages after becoming infected, with RATs much better at detecting the virus in symptomatic cases with high viral loads.

That’s why experts say if you have been exposed to the virus, it is recommended to administer RATs over several days.

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