Victorian authorities are pushing back against growing calls for rapid antigen testing, insisting it has little value as the state’s COVID-19 outbreak dies down.
The events sector and state opposition are spruiking rapid tests as a tool to speed up the state’s lockdown recovery and further mitigate the risk posed by the Delta variant.
But chief health officer Brett Sutton has questioned the usefulness of the tests when the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method is more accurate and currently produces results within 24 hours, 99 per cent of the time.
“The PCR test is a genuine gold standard test,” he said on Tuesday.
“When you’re doing tens of thousands of tests per day, you don’t want dozens of false-positive cases that you then need to chase up as if they’re real cases.”
Professor Sutton said antigen testing could be used to supplement the regime, should it be put under significant strain from hundreds of daily cases.
“But it has to be suited to the circumstances that Victoria is in, and we’re not in a space now where it would provide much additional value,” he said.
Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien wants the tests used to screen visitors at aged-care facilities and hospitals, as well as fans attending major events after recent exposures at the MCG and AAMI Park.
“It’s key to getting this state back again,” he said after taking a 20-minute test at state parliament on Tuesday.
Save Victorian Events director Simon Thewlis has also thrown his support behind the technology, urging governments to fund trials to get events up and running again.
But Premier Daniel Andrews remains unconvinced on their effectiveness, including as part of a mooted plan to boost MCG crowd numbers to 100,000 for the AFL grand final.
“The advice says they wouldn’t work,” he said.
It came as Victoria reported four new local coronavirus cases on Tuesday, all linked to current outbreaks and in isolation for their entire infectious period.
On the back of the state’s third day without a “wild” case, Professor Sutton said authorities would consider removing the ban on home visits at the end of the current two-week restrictions block on August 10.
“We need to drive this right down before we’ve got an assurance that we’re through this. We’ll absolutely look at home visits, along with everything else,” he said.
Ten of the 124 active cases in the state are in hospital, three of whom are in intensive care including one on a ventilator.
Meanwhile, new vaccination data shows Melbourne’s north-west (34.7 per cent), west (34.8) and south-east (36.4) have the state’s lowest first-dose vaccination rates for people aged 15 and over.
That compares to regional parts of Victoria, where take-up is widely between 46 per cent and 53 per cent.
Professor Sutton said disparities in vaccination rates tended to align with socially disadvantaged communities, and some areas were subject more to “misinformation and disinformation” than others.