News When to take a rapid antigen test and where to record the results
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When to take a rapid antigen test and where to record the results

rapid antigen tests
Millions of RAT kits are on their way to Victorian schools and parents. Photo: Getty
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As Australians grapple with rocketing case numbers and changing rules, there is still some confusion over when to use a rapid antigen test (if you can get your hands on one).

Here’s a breakdown of when you should be using a rapid antigen test (RAT) and when you need to get the previously standard PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test, based on health advice.

As of January 5, national cabinet agreed PCR tests are not necessary for those who have already tested positive with a rapid test.

Most (but not all) states and territories have agreed to implement this.

Listed below is what you should do if you test positive on a RAT, depending on where you live.

RAT v PCR

According to the Department of Health, you should attend a walk-in or drive-through COVID-19 testing clinic if you have symptoms, are a close contact, or have been told to do so by a health professional.

A quick reminder: In every state except Western Australia, a close contact is classified as someone who lives in the same household as a positive case or has spent four or more hours with a positive case in a household-like setting.

Testing sites may provide point-of-care rapid tests to help streamline the testing process or you may get a PCR test.

Based on the rules in your area, you may also need to use a RAT on day 6 of isolation if you test positive.

The government has promised to roll out a limited number of free tests for concession card holders.

Retailers caught price gouging RATs by 120 per cent or more now face fines of $66,000 and up to five years in jail.

If you get a positive result on a rapid test, it is likely you have COVID-19.

Depending where you live in Australia, you need to report that result to help health departments get a better picture of how many cases are in the community.

Here’s where to report your result by state or territory.

Victoria

Victorians who are close contacts and have symptoms are advised to use a rapid test first, if possible.

Anyone in Victoria who tests positive on a rapid test is considered a “probable” case of COVID-19 and is required to isolate for seven days.

There is no need to obtain a PCR test if you have already tested positive on a rapid test, but you do need to report your result and start informing anyone you have come into close contact with.

  • Click here to report a positive RAT in Victoria or call 1800 675 398

Queensland

A rapid test can be used for all close contacts in Queensland, regardless of whether you have symptoms or not.

If it comes back positive, follow the isolation rules, notify your close contacts and report your positive result here or by calling 134 268.

In Queensland, a PCR test is not required for those who have already tested positive on a rapid test.

Tasmania

The Tasmanian government is providing free rapid antigen tests to close contacts and those with symptoms, while PCR testing is available for those who are unable to find one.

You can find more details on how to get your hands on a free test in Tasmania here.

If the result is positive, Tasmanians must isolate for seven days, notify their close contacts and report the result online or by calling 1800 671 738.

Northern Territory

There are a number of collection sites for rapid tests in the NT.

If you live in the NT and test positive on a rapid test, you must notify your household contacts and get a PCR test to confirm.

In the meantime, you need to isolate and report your positive result online or by calling 1800 490 484.

South Australia

The SA Health website still asks anyone who has returned a positive RAT to seek a PCR test and classes the rapid test as a “screening tool only”.

Meanwhile, if you are positive follow the isolation rules, inform your close contacts and report your result here.

New South Wales 

In NSW, a PCR test is not required if you test positive on a rapid test, with an online reporting tool expected to come online mid-week.

On Monday, chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said case numbers were expected to surge once residents can report their positive results.

“There were 20,030 cases detected by PCR testing reported in NSW to the 24 hours to 8pm last night and 84,000 PCR tests were reported in that period,” Dr Chant said on Monday.

“That clearly is an underestimate as people are moving and transitioning to RAT testing, the rapid antigen testing.”

That is “hopefully freeing up quite a lot of our capacity for PCR testing for those who need it”, she said.

She urged anyone who has symptoms, particularly those who are unvaccinated, pregnant or have underlying medical conditions, to get tested as a matter of urgency.

If you can’t access a RAT and need to be tested – get a PCR test, she said.

ACT

A rapid test can be used in place of a PCR test in most instances, according to ACT Health.

Anyone who tests positive on a RAT should follow the same advice as those who have tested positive through a PCR test.

A reporting tool for positive rapid tests is ‘coming soon’ for the ACT.

WA

A ban on rapid antigen tests has been lifted in WA, but supply is still an issue, according to ABC.

Anyone with symptoms is advised to seek a PCR test and isolate until a negative result is received, unless you have a quarantine exemption.