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SYDNEY, Jan 17 (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday said the shortages of at-home antigen tests were “not unique” to the country as authorities deal with a runaway Omicron outbreak that has driven up hospitalisation rates and strain testing systems.
Australia is facing a shortage of at-home rapid antigen test kits after asymptomatic close contacts were told to bypass government-funded testing hubs, where high volumes delayed results by several days, and take their own tests.
“The rapid antigen tests are in short supply all around the world. This is not something that is unique to Australia going through it,” Morrison told radio station 2GB on Monday. “It’s part of dealing with Omicron. Omicron has disrupted everything.”
The country’s competition regulator on Monday flagged “significant concerns” about reports of price gouging of testing kits amid reports of stockpiling and called inflated prices “clearly outrageous.” read more
After successfully containing the virus earlier in the pandemic, Australia has reported nearly 1.3 million cases over the last two weeks, overwhelming hospitals and testing clinics.
Daily infections on Monday dipped in New South Wales and Victoria, Australia’s most populous states, amid expectations the Omicron wave had neared its peak in the country. But net new hospitalisations remain elevated, with more people admitted than at any other time in the pandemic.
A total of 52,970 cases were reported between New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania, by late morning with other states due to report later. National daily numbers had touched a record 150,000 last Thursday but have been steadily falling since then.
The outbreak has also threatened to slow down Australia’s economic recovery with the growing toll of workers out sick or ordered to isolate leading to staff shortages and disrupting business supply chains.
“There is little doubt the rapid spread of Omicron is changing people’s behaviour and impacting confidence,” Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg wrote in an opinion column in The Australian newspaper, but he hoped the outbreak will peak soon.
So far, Australia has reported around 1.6 million infections and 2,691 deaths since the pandemic began.
Reporting by Renju Jose
Editing by Nick Zieminski
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