The federal government has denied claims by a Queensland government minister that rapid tests intended for the state’s rail workers had been diverted elsewhere.
As the nation continues to grapple with a shortage of the test kits, state Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey had proof of rapid antigen test kits being pulled and that it was “disappointing”.
But a federal health department spokesperson said the government had not issued a mandate to divert supplies.
“The Department of Health is in regular contact with state and territory governments and is not aware of any other government seeking to requisition RAT,” the spokesperson said.
Mr Bailey claimed Queensland Rail received an email from its supplier that an order of 20,000 RAT kits was at Sydney airport.
“Unfortunately the sponsor of the product has decided that (even though these were fully paid for) they will now only be dealing with the federal government and these tests are no longer available,” Mr Bailey said on social media.
The reports came as a Victorian dairy processor said it appeared its own order of rapid tests had been seized by a government – although it did not know which government.
Victorian dairy processor Burra Foods chief executive Stewart Carson told Stock and Land on Friday that a backorder of tests intended for its workers was due on Tuesday but failed to arrive.
“Then it was Wednesday, then Thursday, then today and then they said ‘no, they won’t be coming at all, because the government has seconded the shipment’,” Mr Carson told the publication.
He said he was trying to find out which government had taken the kits.
“It means we are going to run out of tests. Depending on the number of tests we need to do, we probably have a week of tests, maybe two.”
Other retailers in NSW and South Australia have reported similar issues this week.
Sydney pharmacist told SBS News that orders meant to arrive in recent days had failed to turn up.
“When I’ve spoken individually to different reps to ask what’s happened, they’ve understood their supply has been taken at the point of import [by] the government,” she said.
Ms D’Ath said on Friday that Queensland authorities knew there was a shortage of tests, but she hoped the Commonwealth was working with industries so stock wasn’t pulled back only to then be given to the same people.
About 409,000 kits had been distributed for public testing clinics in Queensland, with a further one million expected on Friday.
“Half of those are point-of-care tests so we won’t be using them at public sites,” she added.
But Ms D’Ath said doctors, primary health networks and aged care facilities were approaching the state for rapid tests and personal protective equipment.
“It’s the Commonwealth who are supposed to be supporting that and providing that stock and they told me this week they were,” she said.
“We just can’t be diverting our supplies to primary care when the Commonwealth says they’ve got a stockpile for that very reason.”
The federal Health Department spokesperson said the Commonwealth had bought more than 10 million RATs since August and ordered more than 70 million for delivery in January and February.
“The states and territories have also placed orders for approximately 130 million RATs for their own use,” the spokesperson said.
“The quantity of RATs procured is expected to meet the foreseeable Commonwealth-related need.”
Rail, Tram and Bus Union national secretary Mark Diamond said RAT kits should be free for transport workers, but instead they were struggling to access them.
He said the Queensland government had stated the 20,000 RAT kits ordered by Queensland Rail had been requisitioned, describing the confiscation as ‘astonishing” coming at a time when national supply chains were falling apart, and transport workers being told to return to work even if they were close contacts.
“Transport companies are doing their best to secure their own supplies, but they are not being helped by these extraordinary interventions by the federal government.”